By Bert Crabbe
True North Community Church, Long Island, NY
Planting a church is a huge undertaking, and anyone who’s even glanced at a first-year church planter can see that it takes a toll on a person – body, mind, and soul. But. There’s another area that can really take a hit if we’re not careful – the church planter’s family.
When we planted True North almost 13 years ago (dang!), it was explained to me that the year prior to launch and the first year of the plant would be pretty brutal. Even with a killer team of volunteers, a LOT falls to the Lead Pastor in year one. Continuing at “year one” pace would be unsustainable in every sense of the word.
I’m grateful that I was coached to immediately start giving ministry tasks away – to entrust others with much of it and focus on the things that only I could do. It was great advice. Even though I’ve had a couple of close calls with burnout and several seasons where I thought seriously about hanging it all up and walking away, God provided. Today I’m still breathing but I didn’t make it through unscathed.
If I could jump in a Delorean and go back 13 years, I’d do three things:
- I’d buy a ton of Apple stock.
- I’d lay off the cheeseburgers.
- I’d pay more attention to my family.
Somewhere close to the end of year one, my wife and I were cleaning up dinner. I was congratulating myself because I made it home (just) in time to eat with her and our two daughters, both of whom were under 4 years old at the time. The many things on my church to-do list were consuming my attention. I gave precious little thought to what it took my wife to juggle a one-year-old and a three-year-old, while still putting a meal on the table.
So we cleaned up our plates and loaded up the dishwasher. I spent a few minutes playing with the girls. Then I went back to the kitchen table, opened my laptop and went back to whatever task I was working on when I jumped in my car to race home. I’m sure it was SUPER important.
Back then I was telling myself things like: “Dude. If someone emails you and they don’t get an immediate response, they’re going to think you don’t care about them and then they’re going to wonder what you do all day and then they’re not going to give and then you’re not going to be able to pay your mortgage and then you’ll be homeless!!”
Twenty minutes into my after-dinner-email-session, I sensed a disturbance in The Force. By ‘The Force’ – I mean the invisible force field of goodwill which emanates from my wife when she is happy. When it is replaced by other vibrations, The Force is disturbed. I glance over at the couch where she’s sitting, only to see her on the edge of tears. At this time, I engaged a system of intuitive responses carefully sharpened by years of training at the Shaolin Temple of Sensitivity. And I deduced that something was wrong.
“Babe. Wassamatter?” (I’m telling you, man. Kung-fu sensitivity skills.)
“Bert, could you just please go back to the office?”
“Because you’re not here. You’re here but you’re not with us. And it would actually be easier if you just went back to work.”
Yeah. That hurt. But she was right. I wasn’t fully present with my family. My heart was back in the church world.
I didn’t go back to the office. I closed my laptop and we talked for a while. I apologized and spent the rest of the evening fully present with my family. Or at least mostly present. My mind was still racing, but I was working on it.
I was learning, and continue to learn a life-changing lesson: Whoever you’re with, be fully present. The person in front of you is always more important than the item on your to-do list. Nowhere is this truer than when the person in question is a part of the family you’ve been called to lead and to serve.
I needed to go back to the Shaolin Temple and work on my Kung fu. I did. I’m still only a yellow belt, but I’m working on it.
This article is part of Orchard Group’s series, In Their Own Words, where we ask church planters about their experience planting a church, reflecting on what they would do differently and the lessons they’ve learned.
“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” Prov 19:20