Walking A Tightrope
By Lisa Ulmer
Balance – it’s what we all want in our lives. Just the right amount of work, family, church, and rest. But how can you be fully present in all those areas when you’re a church planter? Church is your work and your baby, and can honestly steal your rest.
Truthfully, I don’t have it all figured out yet, and I’m not going to pretend. However, no one understands the pressures of church planting like another church planter. Maybe my experience will help you find your balance.
When we moved to Denver three years ago to start a church, it was just my husband, me, and our two young daughters. In those early stages, there are just certain things that won’t get done unless you do them.
I vividly remember standing in the street with my two small children, trying to hold a parallel parking spot with my body while my husband was driving around to back our church’s donut trailer into the spot for an outreach that night. My children have had more practice than most at packing up projector screens and rolling up quarter-inch cables.
Just when that season of life was getting to be too much for us to handle, God supplied faithful volunteers to join us in service and mission.
We’ve had to learn to delegate things to others, even if they won’t do them with the same excellence as we would. They say when someone can perform your job at 70% it’s time to delegate that job fully to them. Boy, that can be hard. But perfection isn’t worth burning your family out in the process.
Another part of finding balance in our lives as church planters has been learning to say no. Again, this was challenging for us because we want to say yes to everybody and everything. That’s how we started our church. We said yes to every invitation into someone’s life and building relationships wherever we could.
Now that we’ve been at this church planting thing for a few years, we have made it a priority to protect our weekly family Sabbath. Saturdays are reserved for family, not work. So don’t be alarmed if we RSVP "No" to that birthday party or cookout. We’ll be fully invested in your life the other six days of the week.
Finding balance between work, family, and church isn’t just about physical space and time throughout your week. A big part of balance is the emotional and mental headspace that is occupied by others, namely, those people in your congregation or ministry.
How can we be fully present with our loved ones when our minds are mulling over the latest drama in our church? One of the biggest ways we have to fight for balance is by letting go of the unrealistic expectations of others.
Repeat after me: "I am responsible to people, but I am not responsible for people. I have certain obligations to people as the pastor’s wife to counsel, pray for, and lead them well. However, I am not responsible for their situations or their reactions if they choose to ignore godly wisdom or walk away from accountability."
We are called to pastor our people with grace and truth, but we are not called to carry the anxiety or disappointment of not meeting people’s expectations.
As we strive to find balance while starting a church, let’s remember that it isn’t our church. It’s His. And He will build it.
“Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.”
Lisa Ulmer and her husband, Preston, pastor Discover Church in the Highlands, located in Denver, CO. They moved to Denver in 2015 as a part of Urban Islands Project, and started holding Doubter’s Clubs, a dialogue-based meeting led by a Christian and an atheist. They launched the church in 2016, and Lisa leads worship and helps with administrative duties. She loves reading about relationships, being outdoors, and spending time with her husband and two amazing daughters, Piper and Brennan.