Shari Thomas had decades of experience with the unique demands of being a church planter’s wife, but she didn’t grasp how universal her experience was until she began interacting with other church-planting wives at MNA assessment events.

“I found myself having to pause teaching, turn off the mic, and speak with these women who were breaking down crying, overwhelmed, exhausted, and wiped out,” said Thomas. “We found a pattern—after being accepted [for church planting],these women were so excited, but then there was no follow-up or resources to help them.”

MNA soon recognized the void in support and recruited Thomas to create a new ministry specifically for church planting wives. Thomas and co-founder Tami Resch launched Parakaleo in 2005.  To date, the ministry has served more than 300 women in 16 networks, and thousands of women have attended Parakaleo training events and workshops. This year, Parakaleo has been selected to receive the 2016 Women’s Ministry Love Gift.

“We’re focused on developing leaders, so we plan to use these funds to help us train 100 additional leaders and set up more networks in other cities,” said Thomas.

Church planting and pastoral ministry can be lonely, stressful, and ambiguous. But many have received great encouragement from participating in Parakaleo networks, experiencing a safe place to be known and also receiving tools to apply the Gospel to their own lives.

One distinctive of Parakaleo is that its training is gospel-based, not prescriptive. “We want women to see the freedom they have in Christ, not to look for a model of how to do [church planting] right,” says Thomas. It’s this “gospel lens for life” that helps women experience restoration.

“For nearly six years, Parakaleo has been a constant source of encouragement to me in our church planting journey,” said one church planting wife. “I often come to meetings overwhelmed and burdened by the stress that ministry places on our day-to-day lives. I’m given space to be honest and be myself but I’m not left in a place of despair.  I always leave having the gospel applied to my heart like a balm. That is ‘coming alongside’ in a powerful way.”

But Parakaleo’s goal isn’t simply to restore women for their own sake. It’s to restore women to help them more effectively reach out to others.

“Our goal is to create a virtuous cycle of health, joy, love, community, and education,” said Thomas. “That motivates us missionally, and moves us beyond ourselves.”

Though Parakaleo was created through MNA and the PCA, the training has struck a chord with church planting wives from many denominations, including Southern Baptists and Acts 29 churches. According to Thomas, Parakaleo is pleased to be meeting a real need that has great kingdom impact.

“We want to be a safe group for these women, whatever they’re going through. And if a church fails, which it often does, we want to make sure they have the support they need to have a smooth road forward.”

To learn more about Parakaleo, visit parakaleo.us.