The Most Overlooked Person In Your Church (and 5 Ways to Invest In Them)

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This is a post by Jeff Henderson. Jeff is a leading voice on how to create and grow momentum for organizations and leaders and is a member of my Speaking Team. Jeff is the founder of The For Company and author of the book, Know What You’re For

By Jeff  Henderson

The most overlooked person in your church is the spouse of your lead pastor.

Let me tell you why and the reason this is so dangerous for the health of a local church.

When I was growing up, I went to church three times a week. My Dad was the pastor. On Sunday nights, we would come back home after church where my brothers, sister and I would watch the Wonderful World of Disney. My parents would make some coffee and talk in the kitchen.

I can’t quite remember how old I was, maybe 8 or 9. We lived in a small house so it wasn’t hard to hear their conversation. Here’s how it sounded:

“Deacon so-and-so is upset because of this…” my Dad would say. “This person is mad about that…. Deacon so-and-so didn’t like this….”

On and on and on.

Over time, a question formed in my mind. “Why do these people hate my Dad?”

Eventually, I promised myself I would never, ever, never work at a church. (I eventually broke that promise but that’s another story for another time.)

During these conversations, my Mom would encourage my Dad. She would also share her unfiltered thoughts about “Deacon so-and-so.” That’s my wonderful, hilarious Mom.

Little did the deacons know, but my Mom was carrying a weight and responsibility as she cared for, encouraged and supported the lead pastor, her husband. These kinds of conversations happen ALL THE TIME in local churches and it’s stunning to me how little this is acknowledged by elder boards, deacons and senior leadership.

This Is Probably Your Story Too:

At a farewell event the Gwinnett Church staff hosted for Wendy and me before our departure, I shared that I had one regret. I regretted that most people had no idea how much Wendy had led Gwinnett Church.

The countless conversations we had when I was hurt, frustrated, anxious and concerned kept me going. The times I wanted to quit, she said, “Not yet.” The times I wasn’t sure I was able to do the job, she said, “You got this. The Lord is with you, and so am I.” The moments I needed great advice, she provided it. And the times I needed to be called out or corrected on something, she was a voice of truth.

What isn’t recognized though is the toll this can take on the spouse of the lead pastor. They carry a responsibility and a weight that doesn’t show up on an organizational chart. But though it may be hidden, it’s there. And if you aren’t careful, this can begin to take a toll on the marriage.

It’s why — just a hunch on my part — many pastors and spouses are looking at leading a church nowadays and asking,

“Is this really worth it?”

Knowing this, I believe it is negligent if leadership doesn’t encourage, shepherd and care for the lead pastor’s spouse. Now, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting some weird entitlement program.

The pastor and the pastor’s spouse shouldn’t be treated as if they are royalty. That’s not what I am suggesting.

At the same time, when there is no acknowledgement of the role the spouse plays, the leadership of the church does itself and the couple a huge disservice.

5 THINGS CHURCH LEADERSHIP SHOULD BE PROVIDING

Specifically, I think leadership should provide the 5 following things, immediately:

1. Paid, Proactive Counseling For The Couple

If funding is an issue, I’ve written a helpful guide on how to fully fund your church here.

2. Say Thank You (Often)

Don’t just wait for the Christmas banquet to tell them how grateful you are for them.

The board or senior leadership should consistently express appreciation to the pastor’s spouse.

3. Pay For Quarterly Off-Sites For The Couple

These don’t need to be extremely expensive, but they do need to happen.

Once again, if funding is an issue, this will help.

4. Value Their Input

Bring the spouse into a leadership team or elder meeting and ask, “What feedback do you have for us to improve how we serve you and your spouse?”

5. Don’t Forget About Your Campus Leaders

If you’re a multi-site church, make sure the spouse of the campus pastor doesn’t get lost in the maze of the organization.

Being a campus pastor’s spouse in a multi-site church can often feel even more invisible, and uncared for.

If you don’t believe me, ask them.

What About Everyone Else?

All of this being said, I could make the case that the most overlooked person in the church is the unchurched person because every organization tends to drift toward keeping the insiders happy. I get it.

And yet, as I wrote in the FOR book, “The customer is eventually treated like the team is treated.”

If elder boards and leadership truly want to care for the church, the most immediate action they need to take isn’t around digital engagement, finances or ministry strategies.

It’s recognizing and supporting the most overlooked person in the church.

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