Did you ever wonder how WalMart got so big while the corner grocery went out of business?
You may see skilled marketing teams, generous financing and huge parking lots as leading factors. All were contributors to be sure. But I think there is a root cause old Sam Walton faced up to before all those other things became issues: He simply wasn’t doing “Mom and Pop!”
Sam Walton came straight out of ‘Mayberry’ with his old pickup truck and plaid jacket, yet he never made the mistake many pastors make today. He didn’t do business as a “His & Hers” operation.
He found the best help and advice available specifically because he wasn’t restricted to finding it from within his own family. His wife was an equal partner in the home, but not in the store.
Too Much Loyalty
There are two reasons why partnering with your spouse in a church plant can slow your growth. The first has to do with loyalty.
Many pastors fall into nepotism right from the start. You can’t find anyone more loyal than your spouse, so why not give them the most crucial jobs in the church?
The answer is found in the downside to loyalty. Your spouse will most always take your side in any discussion. When you need the best answers you must be surrounded with people who are willing to argue with you. The Bible tells us that, “iron sharpens iron.” Those words describe friendships which allow for a little friction—certainly a description of a healthy church staff.
In some military circles a lead decision maker will pose a question to their team beginning with the person with the least power in the room and moving up the totem pole to the top. Why? Because they want honest answers. Few people have the courage to contradict those in higher positions of authority. Straight answers come when people are invited to say whatever is on their mind without fear that they are crossing someone with more authority. By beginning at the bottom of the ladder you will get more straight answers.
Beyond loyalty there is the issue of overburdening one family while everyone else gets relegated to spectator status.
The corner store stayed small or died because Mom and Pop had all the jobs. We emulate it when we appoint our families to strategic positions or place them on our boards. These arrangements put unnecessary stress our homes. No family should carry a fledgling church.
Some of the best advice I received as a church planter was, “Build a strategic plan then flush it out with job descriptions. Choose your own job(s) well, and do only your part while trusting the Lord to fill the other positions with people he sends along.” My friend went on to say, “If a job is unfilled someone in the congregation will get upset enough to volunteer…” His words kept my wife and I from overburdening ourselves. They also helped telegraph that this would be a church where, “Everyone plays!”
In the days of “big box stores” and “megachurches,” there will always be a place for the well run operation that involves every customer or member in its decision-making and execution. While there is always room for strong spousal participation, but you must clarify boundaries that keep you from remaining a tiny operation. This is most important when you are starting out—your stance at this crucial time becomes precedent for your future.
Limiting family roles invites participation and partnership of others. It protects the pastor’s family from the crushing weight of ministry. It allows nearly unlimited potential for expansion. It usually results in excellent service and good morale in a newly planted church. Meanwhile “mom and pop” are rapidly moving off in the direction of the dinosaur.