In 2003, while speaking to couples at a church planting workshop for Mission to North America (MNA), Shari Thomas decided to turn off her microphone and start listening. Church planting spouses shared that they had received mixed messages: “You are a vital part of planting a healthy church, ” they heard, but also, “We have almost no resources, training, or coaching to help you navigate this role.” As a veteran of global church planting, Shari knew firsthand the tremendous frustration of church-planting spouses. These women join fully in the planting mission and face an ocean of brokenness and loneliness with little preparation or support.
After hearing their discouragement and identifying with their pain, Shari expressed the crucial needs of the church planting couple to denominational church leaders. Due to the lack of research on spouses of church planters, MNA commissioned Shari to conduct qualitative research (interviews) and quantitative research (questionnaires) to ascertain the scope of the issues women faced in this vital yet ambiguous role.
Read more about Shari’s Two Groundbreaking Research Projects
In 2004, Shari met Tami Resch, a fellow veteran church planting spouse, and was struck by her gift to bring practical, gospel dynamics to just about any situation. Together, from the research results, they created a ministry structure to come alongside church planting spouses.
In 2005, Shari presented her research findings to the MNA committee: namely that the health of the church planting couple is key to a successful church.
The majority of failed plants or premature pastoral departures stemmed from a lack of understanding the demands church planting placed on the pastoral couple, and the difficulty of navigating congregational expectations.
As Shari laid out the need, Tami presented the plan for training, coaching and care of church planting spouses. Soon after, the duo began working for MNA, putting their research and strategy into practice, first in one denomination and on one continent with the dream of taking the hope of the gospel to the hearts of women across denominations and across the globe.
When naming this new ministry, Shari and Tami looked for a word that transcended generations and culture. Drawing from the New Testament Greek, they decided on Parakaleo, which means “coming alongside.”
Parakaleo networks began with a simple meeting of church planting spouses from the Atlanta area, where Shari and her husband John were serving at the time. In December 2005, seven women, each in a different stage of church planting, gathered at a quaint Atlanta café. These women shared ongoing concerns and unhealed wounds, and brainstormed what this group could look like. They began to develop guidelines that invited transparency, protected confidentiality, led women to Jesus, and did not give empty answers to serious issues.
As word got out that Parakaleo provided safe spaces for women to process confusing and often painful ministry experiences, requests poured in for networks, coaching and training. Tami and Shari realized that, in order to be truly effective, they needed to develop training materials in line with the research and the gospel of grace.
With input from trusted counselors, theologians, and other ministry leaders, and assisted by gospel training mentor Ruth Ann Batstone, Shari and Tami began designing tools and training materials that were uniquely created for women in church planting and ministry positions. In 2010, Carrie Ott, a friend of the ministry, helped Shari and Tami author a book of tools, myths, and stories, Beyond Duct Tape: Holding the Heart Together in a Life of Ministry.
Between 2009 and 2010, Parakaleo added Cristina Caires and Maria Garriott to its staff. As church planting spouses themselves, both brought valuable years of experience and a passion for reaching women.
Over the next five years, the expanding Parakaleo team would serve hundreds of women through training retreats, (Basic, Alongside, and Leadership), monthly gatherings of local groups, and one-on-one coaching.
June 2015, Parakaleo celebrated 10 years of coming alongside women with the gospel and our lives as well!
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