Ten years ago, God called my husband Jon and I to plant a church. After three years of preparation and many long trips between our home in Ohio and where we wanted to plant in North Carolina, we started that journey. We were ready to love large and share the news of Jesus.
Our house sold in days and we were moving to a coastal city. God knew that it was one of our heart’s desires. We were beyond excited!
We moved to Wilmington, NC to start the church from the ground up, just the two of us.
We had so much to be thankful for. All was going as planned…at least for the first four months. Then my life was turned upside-down.
Jon had to have emergency gallbladder surgery. I didn’t know it yet, but he was never going to come home. He died from surgical complications. Suddenly, I was a widow.
Our church plant was already in motion, but we had not even been officially released yet. I wondered if our sending church would still honor our call now that it was mine alone.
They told me I didn’t have to continue to plant and that I had every good reason to just come home. I told them, “I can’t stop, because God hasn’t told me that I can stop”. They honored what God was leading me to do.
I thought I was solid in the call that God gave us, but I began to doubt myself. Did I really hear right? I prayed more in those months than I ever had in my life. I had a lot of questions and doubts in my own ability to continue.
Yet, the Holy Spirit assured me that the Father would be with me through every step of the journey.
As church planters, you prepare for many things, but you can’t necessarily prepare for all the hard stuff that life throws at you. Some things that helped me through as I continued to plant were…
Having trusted friends and people who I could talk to.
Relationships with people who understood what I was experiencing, outside of my church family, who I could talk honestly with were so important. I was not naturally good at doing this, but I learned that I had to be the initiator. People won’t necessarily know that you’re struggling or need help. I had to reach out to them.
My advice is to set up a network of people early. Build those relationships with other pastors and leaders before you go into planting. That way when you’re feeling alone or going through something difficult you’ll have developed relationships with people who can encourage you and walk alongside you.
Keeping my family and core team covered in prayer.
I didn’t realize how important having Intercessors, especially those outside of our church, who were not directly impacted by what our church may be dealing with, was until I lost Jon.
Often, when you are deep in shock or grief, it is hard to pray. Intercessors who are not as emotionally tied to the trauma or loss that you or your church body are experiencing are able to pray without that cloud of emotions.
Taking care of myself.
I learned I was no good to anyone if I was not healthy. We had to do things at a level that worked for us. The activities of the church plant needed to be fluid and simplified. We did things at a level that we could sustain at that time and then began to add things back as time went on.
I also invested in opportunities to care for myself. For example, one opportunity I took advantage of was a Vineyard Pastor Sabbath Retreat. Find some things that help you heal and live at a pace you can sustain.
Leaning on the Father.
If I had not leaned in and listened to the Father, I know that I would have packed up, sold my home and gone back to Ohio.
Many people have said, I don’t know how you did it, Cathy. I can only say, “It was all God.” I listened to him, leaned on him, and trusted him. I knew that if I said yes to his plans, he would take care of me and provide for me.
I recently transitioned out of leading my church and I am now in a season of rest and waiting to hear what the Father has for me next. These lessons have continued to guide me even in this new season.
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About the Author
Cathy Chester is the church planter and founding pastor of the Carolina Coast Vineyard Church in Carolina Beach, NC.