I picked up my Bible and hurled it out the tiny window of our basement apartment. The thin pages wrinkled. The leather cover folded.  But there it hung, caught between the iron bars of our city window. “I can’t succeed at anything, I thought, not even throwing my Bible away.”

I was at the end of my rope. Finished. Disillusioned. We were church planters in a foreign country, in a global city, in a language not our own. The sun’s rays reached into our 800-square foot apartment only 45 minutes each morning before passing behind a building. Our three children shared the master bedroom, their bunk beds stacked over the crib. Makeshift clotheslines crisscrossed the apartment during cold damp winters, threatening to entangle unsuspecting guests.  The children and I invented games to wile away the hours while John held Bible studies in our living room.

The pressure had been building for years. What was wrong with me, I thought. How did other women do this? Why were there conferences on ministry and church planting but not on the interplay of marriage, ministry and mothering? And why, when I mention this need, does every man look at me like I’m speaking Greek?

Fifteen years later, my denomination asked if I would develop a ministry for women married to church planters.

In the years between my disillusionment and their request, I learned that even though I could speak gospel lingo, I had no idea of the underlying idolatries of my own heart. I was hell-bent on proving our worth by how successful we both were in ministry. Looking back, my disenchantment with ministry was the best thing that happened to me. It led us to get help for our marriage. It led me to seeing I was using the law as a weapon to beat us into holiness. It led me out of hiding my brokenness from others and myself. But most importantly, it brought me into the arms of my heavenly Father to taste his free and perfect love.

Now that I saw my attempt to save others or myself wasn’t needed, I was clueless at living life. Everything I had previously poured my life into suddenly wasn’t so important. As I began to let go of duties and man-made obligations, I slowly began discovering a joy and delight that was life giving. I became less demanding. I had more time for people. As I allowed the real Shari to shine, even strangers started asking me about who I was and what I believed. My nine-year-old asked if I had just become a Christian.

Ministry became fun. Oh, I don’t mean there weren’t and still aren’t heartaches, but I found a freedom to minister in ways I enjoyed and that benefited others. My husband and I began to let much-needed church programs fall when no one was there to lead. He stopped urging me to pick up the slack when others dropped the ball. And slowly, I stopped using the law to shame us into obedience.

After further research and collaborating with educators, pastors and counselors, a ministry that comes alongside women in church planting, Parakaleo—was born.  After years of developing a relationally based and supportive training system in our own denomination, Parakaleo became a 501c3 in order to offer what we’ve learned to the broader church-planting world.

At times, I’ve been cautioned to not tell my story. “No one will want to go into church planting when they realize the hardships!” – one seminary professor said. It’s true, they might not go. Maybe they shouldn’t. But, how dare we be silent about the reality of this calling! Without speaking the truth, the church will not be aware that it is not caring for its own; women committing their lives, families and careers to starting new churches.  And, at the same time, let’s not forget the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. In the hardships and heartbreaks, the challenges and victories of church planting, the gospel is as much for fully flawed Christians like me as it is for everyone else. Without a gospel powerful enough for the pastoral couple, it wouldn’t be a church worth planting, anyway.

Shari