Is The Wife Called Too?
Most of our urban church planters are married. This doesn’t have to be so but most pastors do tend to get married before they begin their pastoral ministry. Each family is different and each context is different but many of the dynamics are the same in inner city church planting and ministry. It is not surprising that some of our families live in dangerous neighborhoods. It is not surprising that some of their homes and cars are broken into and they experience being robbed. It is not surprising that the public schools where they raise their children are usually at risk schools or maybe we should just say, terrible schools. It is not surprising that their children are at risk of getting into fights, or getting mugged or robbed, while playing right in front of the house. There are other dynamics among our church planters as well. Some of them are not paid very much, or certainly not enough. Some of them don’t see a lot of fast growing fruit as they deal with some very dysfunctional individuals and families. Some of them suffer from a support system that is not always that supportive, they may give money but they constantly criticize that more isn’t being accomplished. Some of them suffer from self doubt, some of them suffer from family problems that could occur anywhere, but in this context those problems can be crippling. What happens when they have a handicapped child, or that handicap is emotional or mental? What happens when the wife is depressed, or the planter struggles with depression? What happens when the wife questions her calling, the planters calling, and the call to this kind of ministry? In the assessment of church planters the wife is also questioned as to her sense of call, her commitment and agreement with the call of her husband. Now, one can theorize that wives are not the one called, just the husband. She just needs to be a good wife and mother and take care of her family, some might think. Not in the inner city, not on the mission field. Maybe in a comfortable middle class and stable church setting a wife can feel the luxury of her own career, her own life apart from the church, but not in the inner city. There planters are called not just to a job but to a context. This is not to say that wives can’t have their own job or career; that is a family decision Whether the wife works in addition to the work of her home she is called to be with her husband in a common mission in a common context, and that context is all defining. Some can try to live outside their area of mission, that will make things tougher and sometimes will make it impossible. Some can try to live as if they are in a bubble, like some missionaries do overseas, and stay in a compound and never expose themselves to the life of the community they are called to reach. This is both in-genuine and hypocritical and the people where you live can see your lack of faith and your lack of love for them. How can we preach to the poor to have faith in their context if we never enter it, how can we preach trust in the Sovereignty of God in a violent community if we refuse to engage it? One might say I am asking a lot. To the contrary, I am asking the impossible. I am asking parents to go against all of their own intuitive responses to danger and threat, which is to protect our children and to shelter them and give them all we think is the best. In cross cultural churches that pursue the poor we often see parents make this life style choice at different points, usually when a child complains about the Sunday School, youth group, or is attracted to more middle class youth groups in other churches. We see parents abandon their altruistic ideals that they had when they didn’t have kids. This makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t help the inner city, and it doesn’t fulfill the mission of those called to it, and in fact it discourages the rest of us who stay. My feeling is that wives of church planters and missionaries are called just like their husbands, they need to be commissioned like their husbands, and they certainly need to be prayed for along with their husbands and children. They are partners in the ministry and their intuitive feel for relationships, their compassion, their insights, even their anger at what is wrong is helpful to their men and to the church they are seeking to plant and grow. Is the Gospel call to the unreached, the poor, the dangerous, the antagonistic only to single people? If the call comes to those who are married everyone in the family will suffer for it. I use the word with respect, because we are called to add to the sufferings of Christ, we are in fact joined to them as we are joined to Him. Is it fair to bring our children along in such bad circumstances, to expose them to violence, racism, poverty, fear, etc.? No, it is not fair, only right and obedient. And in a certain respect, the only safe thing to do when God calls you. Is God weak, has he forgotten his children, is he unable to provide and protect? He is our rock, our strong tower, and “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1) I remember a certain woman named Elizabeth Elliot who took her young daughter and lived among the tribe that killed her husband. Wow, talk about context. Each family has to make wise and prudent decisions on schooling their children, on putting bars on their windows and alarm systems, on knowing who they can’t trust in their house. Everyone in a war zone learns “street sense” or you don’t last long, everyone suffers some trauma, and many will exhibit some forms of PTSD. It comes with the territory, and that comes with the call. So, ladies especially, if God called you to the man, and if God has called you to a place, be there! Be there in the confidence that Jesus never takes us anywhere that he isn’t still in control of the storms that rage all around us. When you got in the boat with Jesus it should not have been the boat that gave you confidence, nor in the placid waters of the moment but in the Master of water, and earth, and sky who sails with you.