By David Dummitt
The local church is the hope of the world. Church leadership, whether as a church planter, church leader, or lay leader, is full of adventure and purpose, but it can also take a toll on families if they aren’t equipped with the wisdom and practical skills needed to remain healthy.
I recently spoke with Debbie Jones, director of Stadia’s Bloom, which empowers women to maximize their role in starting churches. Debbie and her husband, Tom, have planted two churches and have witnessed firsthand the challenges church planting and leadership can have on families.
Tell me about the history and mission of Bloom.
When Tom started working for Stadia, I knew I wanted to jump into serving the women planting and leading churches. About 10 years ago I gathered three women together to pray about loving and providing help for other women who were starting a church as a lead planter, spouse, or team member. I had experienced a front-row seat to church planting, and I knew the toll it could take on a family. I asked God how we could come alongside and equip women in ways that were valuable. It is my passion, and the mission of Bloom, to help women maximize their roles in church planting, and to fight for the health of church-planting families.
What are some of the biggest stresses that church planting and leadership can have on a family?
While church planting and leadership is an incredible and rewarding adventure, it can cause tremendous strain on families; there’s lots of added pressure. Church planting stretches and grows families immeasurably.
Church planting and leadership families are pulled at from every direction and they have to manage that. There’s so much to get done and so few hands to do it. Healthy church-planting families learn strategies of delegating and empowering other leaders.
Lack of boundaries can be a strain as well. It’s important to know your focus.
There are lots of distractions in church planting, and it is critical to keep out the clutter by keeping first things first. As a family, we have always said, “At the end of the day it’s all about relationships: with the Lord, with each other, with other believers, and with people who need Jesus.”
What advice would you offer to a church planter or leader whose family life is currently in crisis because of ministry strain?
Do not, I repeat, do not cash in on your family. I strongly believe that when God calls a church planter, he calls the whole family. If you are in a strained season, there is hope. Recognize that the story isn’t over, and fight for your family.
Start by getting help through counseling. Let community in to support you; don’t suffer alone! I encourage families to have someone help evaluate the reasons for burnout and strain: Are you understaffed? Is there a specific situation with staff you’re dealing with? Have you developed leadership to whom you should delegate responsibilities?
If necessary, pull back from ministry for a season; sometimes you just have to step out to heal. If you’re burning out and nothing is changing, things will eventually break.
How can church planters and leaders guard against a family crisis caused by ministry strain and actively fight for the health of their family?
We take care of our physical bodies with a healthy diet, exercise, and getting enough sleep. Similarly, church planting and leadership families need to implement practices to stay healthy.
It’s critical to be in a coaching relationship at all times. A coach helps you stay focused on your calling, and helps to pick up on red flags of burnout before a family reaches an injured state.
Couples need to set aside time for their marriages. For some people that means a weekly date night out; for others it’s carving out time in the evenings for connecting and then having a bigger date night once a month. These times of connection can look different, but they need to be intentional, and they must include certain parameters (like not talking about work or church planting).
I also encourage church planters and leaders to have hobbies unrelated to church. For me it’s tennis and pickleball! It’s important to stay healthy mentally and to be engaged in the community; people need to know that you have a life outside of the church. Hobbies are fun ways to get away and clear your head.
What methods of resting do you recommend for a church-planting and leadership family?
Church planters and leaders need to create healthy routines and rhythms of rest so they don’t end up running on fumes. Here are some examples of healthy habits:
• Every day spend some time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study.
• Every week have a full day off. You cannot afford to skip this! Use technology to help you schedule your days off, just like you would schedule a meeting.
• Every year take a family vacation. I know for some this might seem unaffordable, but have garage sales and save in creative ways. The long-term payoff is worth every penny.
• Every five or six years take a sabbatical—an extended time away—to step out and renew yourself.
Leaders and their families must strive to stay healthy themselves if they hope to plant and lead healthy churches. I know firsthand how tough that can be, but I am thankful for people like Debbie who coach and encourage families to intentionally develop healthy rhythms of rest and relationship with one another.
David Dummitt is the lead pastor and planter of 2|42 Community Church, one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country. He is also on the lead team of NewThing, a catalyst for reproducing churches worldwide.