ARC Women Spotlight | Crystal Whitlow
ARC Women Spotlight | Crystal Whitlow
Name: Crystal Whitlow
Church and City: The Heights Church – Richmond, Virginia
Launch Date: February 8, 2015
Current Role: Executive and Operations Director
Family: Husband – Josh, Children – Lucy (7), Josh (5), Lincoln (almost 3), Baby #4 due October!
What were your feelings when your husband told you that God had called him to plant a church (or in some cases, when you both felt that way)?
I remember the moment like it was yesterday…my husband woke me from sleeping to announce his big news… “I think we’re supposed to plant a church.” …WHAT? I’m a bit of a planner and I thought we had a plan, and that was not on my list. My husband and I were both on staff at an amazing church, loving what we were doing. Not only were we happy, but we were well taken care of, living in the house of our dreams, serving under family and surrounded by all of our extended family and friends. I had just found out we were pregnant with our 3rd baby and life was good. We were entering into a time of fasting and prayer at the beginning of the year, and little did I know that God was stirring something deep inside my husband. Initially, I was a bit shocked but thought, what isn’t an adventure with this man? I knew God had something special. My plan, however, was to have our baby surrounded by our family and friends and then start dreaming of our church plant. Fast forward a short month and we were at our first ARC training. Two months later our dream house sold. That left us with 30 days to find a home and we still had no clue which city to venture towards, no team and a huge to do list. Looking back, I can’t help but feel amazed as I remember God’s spirit and peace during that time. He not only opened doors and allowed for miracle after miracle, but he ordained every step of the way, confirming His call by so many around us. Nothing felt the same after taking the first steps of just saying yes…and I wouldn’t change one thing!
So, if you’re feeling scared or unsure or unprepared, I want to encourage you to take a step and don’t stop praying for God’s peace, open doors, and confirmation, because He will always meet you right where you are!
Tell us about a time that you were in complete awe of what God can do during your time as a planter’s or pastor’s wife:
If you’ve planted a church or been a part of a church plant, it’s undeniable to see God working and stand in awe. Josh’s and my eyes were opened and our hearts stirred fresh throughout the whole planting process.
But for me, when I look back at my personal journey, this has me in awe too. Before planting a church, I would have never described myself as a leader. I was more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl, picking up the pieces and filling the gaps; especially when it came to working with my husband. I knew we were taking this journey to help spread God’s word and wanted others to experience the true life-change that Christ offers, but I didn’t realize God was going to do that in me too! I think when we become so focused on others we can tend to forget about ourselves, and I did that for a while. I allowed the tasks, to-do’s, needs of others or the church, and of course planning to take over. Little did I know, God wanted to reveal some new qualities, strengths and roles I never knew were inside. I often feel that nervous/scared feeling, because as I watch the generations before me I start to realize that this doesn’t have to stop or change, but it may be just the beginning. I see that God loves each and every one of us and cares so much not only to show His amazing grace and salvation, but to grow us each in our own way and own pace. We each have a story…don’t forget church planting is not the end…He wants to continue to write yours.
For you personally, what was your biggest challenge or struggle during the planting process and what did you learn from it?
It’s funny but what leaves me in awe was also my biggest challenge and struggle, which was learning more about myself and how God wanted to use me, which heavily involved working with my husband in a new capacity. I had no idea that things meant so much to me until I had to give them away, and this especially related to church planting. For instance, worship was always a part of ministry for me. At the beginning of the planting phase, it was easy to be distracted by all the other needs, but it wasn’t long before I began to resent not being involved in worship. My husband and I had to have some hard conversations, and the funny thing is, I was the one to insist I lay it down. This was just the beginning of God teaching me to let go. Throughout my short journey, my role changed (and probably still will) constantly; mainly out of need and my desire to fill those needs, because this isn’t a “job.” But there were many of those roles/positions that didn’t seem natural; like the fact that the only area I had never worked in any church before was kids and guess what I became, you guessed it, the Kids Director!
What I’ve learned from this challenge is:
- . Stay close to the Lord – The best part is God doesn’t allow an experience or hardship return void if we allow our hearts to be soft and our ears to be open. If you’re a pastor’s wife reading this, a lot of times our journey and struggle may involve your husband, which affects our family…and that can make things sensitive, hard, or blurry. Being close to the Lord is crucial before you move onto number two.
- . Honestly & intentionally communicate, communicate, communicate – I can’t say it enough…take it from me…don’t let anything fester. Make the time to be honest with yourself, the Lord, your husband and those around you. I should also say watch what you communicate and who you communicate to! I learned no one is going to give like you give, or do things the way you do things, and that’s ok…but you can’t do it all and be it all to everyone…but they won’t know how you feel if you don’t tell them.
- . Learn & re-learn your gifts, calling, role & season – I had to take time to re-learn my personality, strengths, gifts and limits because they changed…church planting is not what I would call normal, so I would encourage you to explore those areas in your life again and see where God may be calling you. Strengths finders was a big eye-opening tool for me.
- . Be flexible – My husband loves to say, “church planting makes you scrappy.” This means you do what you have to do, which can bring about a lot of change, requiring flexibility. I love the phrase ‘God cares more about your character than your comfort.’ I was recently reminded that people are watching how YOU handle everything, and if you do it well and with grace it’ll makes everything easier, and that if someone can do what you’re doing at 80% or better, it’s time to pass it on…this is not easy for us control freaks, aka “planners.”
If you’re feeling really uncomfortable…maybe because you have to step out and do something that feels unnatural, or because you have to step back and let someone else step up, or you know you need to communicate some things that aren’t easy… don’t forget that all the while God is doing something amazing in you and has the best in store for not only your church but YOU and your family!
You planted while juggling a family of very small children and babies. What are some things that you and your husband did to manage the time that both a growing church and a growing family require?
I’ve met so many other church planters’ wives that have young children and had a baby before, during, or right after …and let me say… the struggle is real. For me, I find that I’ve become a pretty go-with-the-flow type of person and I think that helped a lot, especially if everything is based out of your home (we even had two interns living with us we didn’t know during launch!). Managing a 4-year-old, 2-year-old and newborn with a new church, small launch team and no staff seemed near impossible at times, but one of the best pieces of advice I got was to get help- to have someone committed and focused on your children. Maybe in your situation the best fit is you, but for our situation I had and really wanted to be there and it was all hands-on deck. So, with the advice, when we got to our city the first thing I did was go to a local babysitting website and began interviewing girls. This decision definitely made the season bearable, and the most amazing part is, I met her online and she wasn’t the churched grandma I envisioned, she was a young high school girl that ended up not only loving and serving our family but the church as well.
Another thing I would say that my husband really helps me balance well is to know when to turn it off. Since most church plants are run out of a home during the week, this can cause for much frustration for you, your husband, your children and even others on your team. My husband and I work very hard at keeping each other accountable and noticing when it’s time to put work away, because let’s be honest, when does ministry ever end. We tried to be very intentional and took advantage of the situation, making office hours later at night while they were younger so we could have more family time during the day. Or as they got older and had school demands, we were very cautious of how often events or people were hosted in our home, yet at the same time brining things from outside into our home so our children could be included.
We’ve experienced that a child is never too young to begin to learn to love God’s house. The other day one of my two-year-old’s first sentences was “we go to church!” and I’m not ashamed to admit I couldn’t contain the tears.
One of my favorite parenting phrases is “if you don’t fight for your child’s attention, something else will.” Family has to be before the church, because just like our relationship with the Lord or spouse, it’s the same with our children. “You can’t give what you don’t have.” I learned I have to force myself to rest and stop, so I can be filled to give.
What was one thing you wish you knew before planting a church?
Looking back, I had no idea how crucial it would be to have intentional, real, and genuine friendships with other pastors’ wives & pastor couples that know and get your life.
I want to place emphasis on the word “intentional.” Many would look at our life and think we are blessed with friends because of our personalities. But when I look back at the beginnings of the most precious friendships that still keep us through, they all stemmed from an intentional conversation, invitation or outing where we made ourselves vulnerable.
We are blessed to have a rich heritage of family in ministry and I love how my mother-in-law explains this need. I asked her from her 40+ years of having planted and pastored, what would she tell us as pastors’ wives and she said just this. She explained how one day after sharing her heart with her husband, and him responding “you’ve already told me this ten times,” that women process things differently than men, and we need another woman we can call and just talk it out. And not just women in our same season, but those of all seasons that can pour into our lives.
I believe what’s so unique to church planters, especially in our generation, is that the journey fast-tracks you and your family into a type of leadership that is very vulnerable. Each of us needs a friend that you can call or text day or night with no judgement, to just be you. So, don’t forget: be intentional, take a risk, and make a friendship that will last a lifetime. And what better place to find that than ARC!!! #dontdoministryalone !!!