7 Issues Church Planters Face, #7. Spiritual, Physical, & Mental Health of Planter / Family – by Ed Stetzer

This is part of a series of posts on Church Planting. This post originally appeared on Ed Stetzer’s blog, The Exchange. You can view the first post in the series here. Ed Stetzer is the President of LifeWay Research, a prolific author, and well-known conference and seminar leader. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

7 Issues Church Planters Face, #7. Spiritual, Physical, & Mental Health of Planter / Family – by Ed Stetzer

The previous six key issues create a heavy burden for planters and their families. Today I’m addressing the final issue of the 7 Top Issues Planters Face. Thanks again to Todd Wilson (Director of Exponential) for inviting me to partner with him on this project.

Most planters indicate that planting is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. Those who survive are quick to highlight how discouraging and lonely it can be. But they are also quick to point out how rewarding it is. In some ways, it is the best of times and in others it is the worst of times.

Planters who responded often stated that they faced struggles in the areas of personal health: (1) the battle to overcome pride, self-reliance, drivenness, and an uncoachable attitude; (2) loneliness and isolation; (3) mistrust; (4) lack of rest; and (5) maintaining joy. Although most planters understand the importance of making personal development and family nurturing top priorities, these things often get lost in a planter’s busyness.

The result is a fragile foundation for dealing with the discouragement and loneliness of planting. Eventually, unresolved family of origin issues or weaknesses in the marriage will surface, often in the midst of the planter’s other struggles. Don’t be fooled: if you have a buried or current family crisis, church planting demands that you deal with it.

In my own life, I have found that the times we planted turned cracks in our marriage into fissures. God used it to force us to grow up and grow together. Also, at times, I had to get away just to refocus on the things of God. In church planting, it’s easy to get so focused on the work of the Lord that you lose focus on the Lord of the work.

Understanding the first 6 of the 7 Top Issues provides a good picture of the environment where planters pursue their calling. The environment will likely include times of discouragement and loneliness. Their faith is challenged. God often uses the challenges for good to grow the planter and his family or Satan can use to bring them down.

The following is a possible sketch of what the church planting journey may look like:

  • Planter is called and a dream emerges. Excitement builds and plans formulate.
  • Fulfillment and pursuit of the dream requires an expanding team of people to join the planter in the journey. Team members are harder to recruit than anticipated, and the team formulates much slower than intended. Often, the new church births with a smaller team than planned. Additionally, leading the team of “messy” people takes more time and energy than expected.
  • A smaller team means more responsibilities for the planter and spouse. The burden can be intense, especially when a planter discovers that not everyone has as high a commitment as the planter does.
  • Financial shortfalls limit ministry opportunities. The average planter wakes up wondering if funds will be available for salaries and expenses. At the same time, guilt emerges that the ministry appears “stuck” and not growing. Fundraising can take significant time, competing with the other ministry demands vital to growth.
  • The “tyranny of the urgent” makes it difficult to invest measurable time in capacity building. As a result, systems, processes, and cultures tend to reactively define themselves rather than the planter proactively shaping them. The result is inefficiency and ineffectiveness built on unhealthy processes. Weak processes require more hours to accomplish the same results.
  • A crisis of belief emerges. The planter’s dream seems so distant from reality. Comparison with other leaders, discouragement, and loneliness set in. Things seem to be shaped more by circumstances and other people more than by the planter’s dream.
  • Adding more fuel to the fire, the planter continually questions the new church’s effectiveness at reaching lost people (versus transfer memberships) and senses the discipleship process isn’t really resulting in transformed lives.
  • Planters typically have a big vision when they are called to plant. The euphoria often gets muted after launch as the planter faces numerous challenges. The “lack of” (scarcity environment) is discouraging and can feel like the “death of a dream,” especially when no relief appears in sight. The disconnect between the planter’s dream and the current reality further amplifies the discouragement.
  • Spiritual warfare kicks into full swing, including comparisons with other success planters. Many planters lack fellowship with other peers and coaching. The planter has no one with whom to share burdens. In many cases, planters avoid sharing with their spouse in an attempt to protect them. However, the spouse is often the first to sense something is wrong.

Many families find themselves asking, “Should we quit, or should we persevere?” Critical support environments for planters and their families are key. A fully engaged partner church that cares for the entire family unit is essential. Babysitters, Christmas bonuses, and financial sponsorship for marriage enrichment are a few ways to create a foundation for health. Accountability from partners is also essential. Coaching and mentoring for the planter and family is also a plus.

Every planter, spouse, and even partner church pastor should read Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro. The book gives the greatest gift a planter needs—permission to be human.

My next blog will include conclusions and observations from the 7 Top Issues research.

By Ed Stetzer