A Summary of Research Findings
on Church Planting Spouses
by Shari Thomas, cO-Founder and director of Global strategy
In the early 2000's, training spouses for church planting was a foreign concept for too many leaders.
Why train the wife? She's not planting the church. Besides, what would she be trained in? Are you unwittingly imposing a new standard of expectations on women who are already carrying a heavy load? Why is planting a church so hard for the wife, anyway?
I often encountered these questions when I approached seminaries, church planting agencies and seasoned planters about needs wives were facing. I had spent the past 20 years working with my husband to start new churches. In seminary I had taken every course I found on planting. Yet in all my studies, I never discovered anything that addressed what I would face for the next 30 years of ministry.
Nothing prepared me for the level of stress I would soon learn to live with as if it was ordinary.
When my denomination approached me in 2003 to develop a system of care for our planters' wives, I declined. Care isn't the greatest need, I responded. It's education. But I've since learned that it's education for both men and women.
After years of hearing disparaging and even derogatory comments, I knew I needed to discover what our evangelical leaders would listen to. A few heart-wrenching stories wouldn't do it. Proven facts, statistics and data were needed.
When I embarked on the project, I discovered no published research had been done in this field. I would need to begin with qualitative research. Sending a questionnaire to a vast number of women could easily lead me down the wrong path; a questionnaire doesn't tell us if we've even hit on the right issues. I had to discover what the real problems were. That can only be done with a control group to discover their similarities. For the next two years, I worked with a group of wives to uncover those parallels. The control group consisted of women who were between years three and seven of planting.. They were different ages, served in both urban and suburban settings, had differing numbers and ages of children and varying workloads inside and outside of the plant. However, they each shared common struggles.
Once those similarities were discovered, I began quantitative research to find how many other wives struggled with these issues and to what degree. Based on a Likert scale from 1-5 with 5 being the highest, wives from the U.S. rated their concerns. Any item that rated below a 3.2 on importance was then removed from this list.
Since that initial research in 2005, we have again rated the issues in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The biggest variance in Latin America was that expectations was a much higher cause of stress. In global cities, finances received a higher rating. In all cultures, the husband, a support system, and a reliance on Christ remained the highest ratings.
THE TOP REASONS FOR STRESS OR SATISFACTION
The most critical causes of stress or conversely, satisfaction, are listed in order of importance as rated by church planting spouses.
SUPPORT SYSTEM:THE PRESENCE OR LACK THEREOF OF A HEALTHY SUPPORT SYSTEM.
RELIANCE ON CHRIST:
SPOUSE'S UNDERSTANDING AND ABILITY TO RELY ON CHRIST'S FINISHED WORK ON THE CROSS IN HER EVERYDAY LIFE.
HER PARTICIPATION/NON-PARTICIPATION IN RECREATION AND SABBATH REST
CHURCH GROWTH/CHANGED LIVES:
EVIDENCE OF CHANGED LIVES IMPACTING A COMMUNITY FOR CHRIST IS HIGHLY REWARDING.
FAMILY LIFE/RAISING CHILDREN
Navigating life in a shifting context without clarity of role, of use of private space, and extent of emotional involvement.
LIVING WITH SUSTAINED LEVELS OF TENSION OR TRAUMA*
THE SPOUSE'S COMMITMENT AND SENSE OF CALL TO CHURCH PLANTING
THE SPOUSE'S ABILITY/INABILITY TO MANAGE EXPECTATIONS OF/FROM SELF AND OTHERS
Shari conducted two research studies. The first was qualitative research to determine the stress and satisfaction levels of church planting spouses in the Presbyterian Church in America. The second was quantitative research which became the foundation of the Church Leader Spouse Inventory (CLSI), an interactive 360 degree assessment instrument. that accompanies the Church Leader Inventory (CLI) used during leadership assessment in the PCA, in City to City, in ECHO, in the EPC and in a growing number of other church planting organizations. While the CLSI was developed for use in the United States, further surveys have been conducted in diverse cultural contexts. To date, these surveys reveal that the wife of the lead pastor in church planting ministry in other countries needs the same competencies as her counterpart in the U.S.. The differences lie in the extent that these competencies will hinder or sustain her marriage and the couples’ ministry.
The CLSI is a hands-on resource that helps individuals and organizations evaluate the readiness of spouses for church planting and assists in development of skills for those in a supportive role. It also encourages spouses of existing leaders to evaluate their strengths and identify areas in which they might improve. The spouse, an integral part of the team regardless of role or title, will impact the church and vise versa. Church planters, leaders, and their families are entering a context that is ambiguous by nature and requires the couple and at times the whole family to discuss needs, expectations, and action steps which need to be implemented for the sake of the family and the church. While one may simultaneously be a church leader and a church leader’s spouse, this inventory is designed for those focusing on their supportive role. For spouses also holding a leadership role in the church, consider taking the Church Leader Inventory (CLI).
The inventory consists of 52 action and behavior-based statements that are designed to measure 13 competencies among 6 areas: spiritual dynamics, family life, Integrity, learning agility, missional engagement, and emotional stability. The inventory also includes 35 actions and attitudinal statements designed to evaluate behaviors that may hinder or destroy effectiveness.
CLSI allows for self appraisal and feedback from leaders, peers, and disciples. Particular ratings of references are treated confidentially and not disclosed to the candidate.
CLSI should only be debriefed with certified assessors trained to interpret this instrument and thus provide professional judgment.
Shari Thomas J. Allen Thompson, Ph.D. John F. Thomas, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2007 by International Church Planting Center
For Further Information on taking the CLSI or the CLI:
Contact Jenny Dorsey at JENNY@PARAKALEO.US