Pro Tip: Stay Married

I’ve got two goals for every church planting couple that I coach: Stay Married.

Do we really have to state that goal? Yes. Yes we do.

  • 80% of ministry spouses report that ministry is hazardous to their family.
  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry every month. Planters included.

Church planter types are awesome. Bold, risk-takers, full of faith in God, ready to storm the gates of hell with a super soaker! We are like the Marines of the church. We go first into harm’s way to fight the good fight and see God’s Kingdom advance!

Only you know what? We aren’t Marines. We are, for the vast majority, married and Marines don’t re-locate their families to the front lines of a battle! We do. And it’s dangerous up here. There is a real enemy and he’s mean, he cheats and he wants to destroy you, your family and that church you dreamed up at the coffee shop when you were amped up on your third doppio espresso of the day.

The church planting battle field is not friendly to marriages. So you need a gospel coach that is going to keep you focused on your marriage amidst all the other demands. Twice in one week this month, I heard of two planters I know personally in different states whose wives had affairs. They were successful. They were ‘too busy’ to get a coach. Part of big name ministries, writing and speaking. But they neglected their marriages. How incredibly sad.

Listen, I know planting is a demanding call. There are no distinct time or space boundaries between work, home, marriage and friendship. It’s easy to get busy! It’s easy to forget about your spouse and your marriage. I got busy serving God, winning the lost, starting Bible studies, gathering, networking, marketing, speaking, raising money and planning (and this was 12 years ago before social media and the cloud!) The kind and firm questions of my church planter coach steered me away from the dangers I see so clearly now but couldn’t during the fog of the start up battlefield.

Church planter, you are different. And it’s not because you are better. It’s because you are a marked man on our enemy’s hit list. If you or your wife fail morally, then you and your family will need to step off the front lines for a long time. Neglecting your first ministry to your family is very easy to slip into but its wrong.

According to 1 Timothy 3, a qualification of leading a church is that you are to be the husband of one wife and manage your household well. The reality is, you lose in marriage? You take a seat. Or at least you should.

My wife and I at the CMM booth at an annual church event. We’ve been married 28 years. As cheesy as it may sound, I hope every church planter couple ends up like us – more in love during and after the hard work of planting a church.

So what should you do? Stay married.

That is a moralist statement. There is no power in that advice. You need to put your faith in the power of who God is and what Christ Jesus as done and will do. And you’ll need a coach who will point you to Jesus – not his great advice or expertise.

What should you look for in a church planting coach?

1. Get a coach who will remind you to whom you are married. As a member of the Body of Christ, we who put our faith in Christ are His Bride. You can’t lose your marriage to Him. He’s the best husband you can trust to protect you and yours.

2. Worship God, not your spouse or your kids if you have them. Worship Christ and ask Him about everything. Everything. You’ll want a coach that prompts you to pray. A lot.

3. Work less not simply more or harder. Minute-by-minute dialogue with God requires much more listening and less hustle than you probably tend toward as a church planter. Most of what I did racing around making it happen was my own willful self-effort. Not good. I needed a coach who’d been close enough to burn out that he warned me of the signs he saw in my own life. I had to learn to Sabbath. To cease. To stop. To be human.

4. Depend on the Holy Spirit. There are mountains of great church planting resources and wonderful subject matter experts, mentors, trainers and coaches available. Not one of us will be better for you as a planter than deep, old-school, radical humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

If you are stuck or struggling, get a gospel coach. One of our team can and will help you find out why you’re stuck and help you follow Jesus and stay married as you plant a church for the glory and by the power of God.

Married 28 years today

Newlyweds at Westminster Presbyterian, Atlanta on June 27, 1987

My bride Elizabeth and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary today.

I am deeply grateful for her. She is my best friend, a most excellent mother to our children and a godly woman who points me and many to Jesus through her music, teaching, serving and example.

Much has changed in this short time and will continue to change. Children, weddings, gospel maturity, pain, poverty, wealth, homes, churches planted, new vocations, languages, technologies and new friends. Amazing how the events of these last two weeks underscore how the world changes quickly and slowly at the same time. But one thing has only increased.

I want her more than ever before.

Being married to Elizabeth is an increasingly beautiful foreshadowing of The Wedding of Eternity for which Christ is preparing His Bride (Revelation 19:6-9). Truth and Grace prepare the Bride of Christ for Final Judgment that ushers in the New Heavens and the New Earth where His people are WITH Him. This is the greatest good. We live in such gratitude that He would chose us for each other and for Himself. It is so good it is hard to imagine. That He would grant us a joy for which we were made, redeemed and celebrate daily? It is a Joy that we could never earn. Intimacy and love that proves His worth and glory. Being married to you Elizabeth as followers of Jesus is an honor. Anticipating eternity.

Happy Anniversary my love. Living with you is like heaven on earth.

Our Son is Getting Married!

Jake and Cat

Cat (Catherine) is truly an answer to prayer. She’s from a great and godly family. She’s just finishing up her sixth year at UGA with a Masters of Social Work and plans to serve and counsel families in crisis. She and Jake met at a campus ministry where they had lots of common friends. She told me she fell in love observing him at several mutual friends’ weddings. Apparently my son is a good dancer. Who knew?

Jake graduated with a BBA in Finance from the Terry School of Business at UGA and works doing something his father doesn’t understand but is very glad people pay him to do it. He’s vibrant young man, full of ideas, plans and energy. I couldn’t be more proud.

The bride and groom will live in Atlanta near a bunch of friends and attend Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church. It’s a sweet joy to us that they’ve chosen to follow Jesus as husband and wife. And it’s a special joy that they’d go to AWPC. Pastor Walter is the first church planter who ever asked me to coach him. 

The Wedding
They will be married at First Pres in Macon where her dad is an elder and her mom is super involved. I think they know everyone in the county because her dad is a pediatrician. I’ll be co-officiating, Erica and Elysia are bridesmaids and Elizabeth will be joyfully crying in the front row. Most are betting I won’t make it through without choking up. We’ll see…

All of Jake’s grandparents, three of his great-grandparents and dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins will be attending along with Cat’s large extended south Georgia family and most of Macon. It’ll be quite the celebration. There’s even a live 8-piece band at the reception. Going to be a great party! Cat’s parents have been so gracious about this being a preview of the Heavenly Marriage Feast all believers will experience with our Bridegroom King Jesus! Something special!!

Prayer Requests and Thanks
I don’t usually ask for prayer on my blog, but I feel like it’s a good idea. Would you please pray for this new part of the Moon family? Jake is our only son and he’s named after me – James Ray Moon III – and with all my heart I want him and Cat to love Christ and faithfully serve Him long after I’m gone.

Since this blog is mostly about things I’ve learned in ministry, I want to point out how this ties in with CMM, church planting and gospel coaching.

My church planter coach Tom Wood, Wesley Horne and my supervisor Bob Cargo at Perimeter Church all reminded me during the intensity of the battle to keep focused on my kids and my wife, made me spend money on two-week vacations and asked me about taking Sabbath days and family days. Without their input, I would have done far less with my family, run myself and them into a ditch by working too much and not trusting God enough to rest.

If you are a planter, know a planter or supervise a planter, I can’t recommend enough that they get a skilled, certified gospel coach for their journey.

This is my personal favorite of the happy couple.