The Most Overlooked Person in your Church (And 5 Ways To Invest In Them)

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.

The most overlooked person in your church is the spouse of your lead pastor. - @JeffHenderson Click To Tweet

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.

Many pastors and their spouses are looking at leading a church nowadays and asking, 'Is this really worth it?' - @JeffHenderson Click To Tweet

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.

The board or senior leadership should consistently express appreciation to the pastor’s spouse. - @JeffHenderson Click To Tweet

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.

I’d love to hear from you

If you serve in this type of role and disagree with me, then let me close with a question: “When’s the last time you brought the spouse into a board meeting and thanked them?”

The Most Overlooked Person in your Church (And 5 Ways To Invest In Them)

39 Comments

  1. happy wheels on March 25, 2021 at 4:03 am

    “The customer’s eventually treated like the team is treated.”

    • Michael Schmidt D. Min, Ed. D. ABD on August 30, 2021 at 3:30 am

      The most overlooked person in any church is not the wife of a church staff member. It is rather a person who is qualified to be a pastor or other ordained church clergyman, but is not on the paid church staff. It is the ordained clergy who are members of a church but are not on the paid church staff. Nobody cares about them…unless someone wants something from them that is.

  2. Melanie on March 24, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    I dream of a day when articles like this will not only be written for the lead pastor and their spouse but every ministry leader and spouse in the church. Conflict, resistance to change, and dealing with division in the church is not exclusive to the lead pastor. Regardless of the area of ministry you lead, (kids, worship arts, spiritual formation/discipleship, hospitality, etc.,) you’ve seen how the sausage is made and so has your spouse. They too carry the weight and responsibility of encouraging and supporting their family through the truly wonderful and very challenging aspects of ministry life.

    • Skipper Rodgers on March 24, 2021 at 7:31 pm

      YES!

    • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:39 pm

      I completely agree Melanie but I would say that there is a different weight of responsibility for the point leader and their spouse. Not greater but different. All spouses deserve to be treated with great respect and honor, I agree.
      Thanks so much,
      Jeff

    • Wayne on March 27, 2021 at 11:53 pm

      Absolutely!

    • Mike B on April 2, 2021 at 11:25 pm

      Yes

  3. Jen on March 24, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    I’d love to see photos of men when talking about the pastor’s spouse. People aren’t sure what to do with the pastor’s spouse when the lead pastor is a woman…speaking from personal experience.

  4. Wineganiba Daniel on March 24, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    In Africa, the case is different in that Pastors’ spouses are appreciated greatly by the elders and church boards. They’re praised and even made to contribute to various relevant decisions in the church.
    However,this is particularly not the case with the Orthodox Churches.
    Thank you for sharing this insightful topic.

  5. Mar on March 24, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    This has always been such an “under the surface” topic it seems. As a pastor’s spouse, I have found it interesting when my husband & I go out with various couples whether it be our small group or meeting up with a couple for coffee, that a large percentage of the time the “eye contact” of questions and comments can be typically directed toward my husband, even if I’ve asked the question. I am very grateful that my husband & I have discussed this reality and he also sees it. He often re directs the question, comment, answer back to me when he sees it happen. Thankfully we are on the same page and I feel his support as we do ministry together. I do feel my contributions in private to the many ministry decisions he is responsible for is valuable, and yet I do not find there is always a forum to contribute in the public (appropriate team meeting) forum. Having said all this …. this topic of the “health of ministry spouses” is very important… Thanks for “cracking the door open slightly” for discussion on this topic.

  6. Joe on March 24, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Great conversation! I agree in the fact that role of a minister’s spouse can be one of the most overlooked and challenging… I intentionally use “minister’s spouse” here because church leadership conversations and training tend to emphasize, focus, and value Senior Pastors (spouse and family) when it comes to ministry longevity, support, honor, financial security, or spiritual and mental health. We also forget that most Senior Pastors start in other ministry roles and bring with them those experiences. Some have great experiences but many do not. Unfortunately, some of it is just the nature of ministry but a lot of it is simply messed up stuff that goes on that should not go on… I am confident that many pastors and their spouses have doubts about the Senior Pastor role because of the reason you mention in this article but way earlier in ministry. Questions of doubt can also be based on how long they have been in ministry and what kind of ministry exposure/treatment they have experienced.

    I believe ministry spouses play a huge part in the tenure issue of Senior Pastors (3-6 years) but as bad as it is, the youth, children, (youth and children are similar 18 months), and worship leaders/pastors (2 years) turnover is worse. I am a NextGen Pastor and have been in full-time ministry for 16 years. Married for 15 and have 4 children. I have served on several ministry teams, churches, and environments. In many of those experiences, it about the senior pastor and spouse with little to no emphasis on the “Pastoral Team” which most certainly includes spouse and children. The truth is pastoral staff and spouse help carry a ton of the ministry weight, burden, responsibility and are exposed to a lot of darts. Then there is all the stress of juggling and managing everything outside of church life… Like life, jobs, and other responsibilities.

    My point is this, great Senior Pastors can understand, articulate, and communicate the value of their team which includes spouses! Great teams can understand, articulate, and communicate the value of their Leader and spouse! Great leaders don’t just demand it for themselves and their spouses, but can also reciprocate respect, honor, recognition, and appreciation of their teams/families. It goes both ways… FACT! No one has done anything on their own but everyone depends on each other to get things done! I have met many who do not navigate this well or their spouses no matter how much attention they get or don’t get… I praise God for the leaders, boards, congregations, and pastoral teams I have seen do it well! It is a beautiful thing! I strongly believe that the longevity, health, and success of the body of Christ, leaders, spouses, and their families hinge on getting this better!

    As ministers, our spouses have a very tough and stressful role. They carry far more responsibility and burden than we give them credit for at times! They carry the weight of our success and our failures. They are mistreated by association (because they are your spouse). Having very little to no understanding as to why things happen the way they do and are not given adequate time to heal. They are expected to just keep on keepin on… and happens way too much in our churches. WE HAVE GOT TO DO BETTER!

  7. jesus laboy on March 24, 2021 at 11:11 am

    This is so real that it is scary. We always protected our children and they had good experience with the church, but I know so many PK’s that were damaged. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Rachel on March 24, 2021 at 10:58 am

    This is so good. I’m a lead pastor’s wife for 12 years. When I worked outside the church full-time, I was almost invisible. Now that I work at the church, more people see my in action at church. We carry our own concerns pertaining to our job in the church, plus we carry the concerns of our husband/spouse, add to that the concerns/tensions of our children in the church (their treatment by our attenders). It’s a heavy job all around. So much to carry… I’m super appreciative that my husband has fought to get me a paid position, which in turn then validates what I do (human nature here). But other than payroll, there is no sign of further appreciation by leadership/deacon board. Hence, I am on the leadership team for the church. This has gone a long way to help me feel seen. I’m blessed in the position that I have now. So many prayers needed for the pastor’s wife (whatever her role may be).

    • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks for all you are doing, Rachel.

      Jeff

  9. Laura on March 24, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Great post and great suggestions! I would add, make it a policy that the pastor’s wife/family do not have to pay for any church event, and give the pastor’s wife a key to the church! These are both signs that we are part of the ministry too.

  10. Cindy Soriano on March 24, 2021 at 10:35 am

    I am a pastor’s wife and yes I sometimes or often wonder if it’s worth it. I always conclude it is, for Christ. But physically and emotionally it’ would be great to take quarterly breaks just “us” tune to unwind and be quiet and away.

    • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:42 pm

      Agree!

      Thank you for all you do, Cindy.

      Jeff

  11. GTBridge on March 24, 2021 at 9:53 am

    Personally – I would argue the single female pastor is the most overlooked. Much of what was mentioned also applies however it is also tempered with people demonstrating contentiousness towards their call and very few others who know how to befriends them. They find themselves in the middle of high pastoral obligations and insensitive theology that in validates them.
    Either way, we could make a case that everyone feels overlooked.

    • Ellen Cusack on March 24, 2021 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you for mentioning single, female pastors. I have long recognized the burdens the normally “unpaid staff person, the pastor’s spouse, carries. But when you minister without anyone to carry that burden with you it can be difficult. If you are perceived as a strong woman, the support can be even less from the congregation- and clergy colleagues. Thanks for the encouragement.

  12. Sean on March 24, 2021 at 8:44 am

    Great points all… but What is an off-site?

    • Cheri C on March 25, 2021 at 11:53 am

      Off-site refers to an additional “campus” or “site” that is different from the main, primary church building. This would not apply to probably most churches. But some churches have grown to where they need an additional site to meet the needs of their community. My sister’s church is one such church. They have the location they started in, but have grown to add 3 additional locations (one of those meets in a high school). Each of those sites has their own Site Pastor.

    • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:43 pm

      An off-site is a getaway for a day or two, a mini paid vacation.

      Thanks,

      Jeff

  13. Skipper Rodgers on March 24, 2021 at 8:34 am

    I would like to add to your article that the spouses of associate Pastors are also neglected. It is not just the senior Pastors wife. Often times “the church” knows and loves on the Senior Pastors wife because she is seen and known. But, many church attendees don’t even know who the spouses are of the associate Pastors.

    Now, If you want to talk about the children – we have an entire additional article! The only attention most Pastors Kids get is negative attention when they do something wrong!

    Thank you for this article and for the work you do for church leaders.

    Blessings!

    • Ben on March 24, 2021 at 10:40 am

      Came here to say this!

    • Renee on December 5, 2021 at 9:01 pm

      Thank you for adding that! My husband is in training for an associate pastor’s position and I’m like a deer in the headlights. I work full time, our daughter is 12 and though I’m fairly close with our pastor’s wife, I’ve had no spiritual counseling yet. I believe he’s going to be ordained sometime next year, and he’s our first associate pastor but, aside from accepting this journey alongside my husband, there’s been nothing else.

  14. Jo Biebighauser on March 24, 2021 at 8:33 am

    Thank you. It is a challenging and lonely position at times. I am very thankful that God has given me a gift for listening well. It would be very sweet for our church leaders to consider asking me for input occasionally.

  15. Killion Titani Chiondadala on March 24, 2021 at 8:28 am

    This is really true and Pastors themselves must begin the move by recognising their spouses time to time even before every sermon. Politicians are good at this, they can’t start a speech without observing the protocol of recognising their spouses. With this, I believe the leadership may follow suit.

  16. Rosie on March 24, 2021 at 8:08 am

    True. I am the assistant to a lead pastor, and his wife is a good friend of mine. I see this first-hand, too.

  17. Brian on March 24, 2021 at 7:57 am

    Wow. This is so good! Even more challenging when your spouse also serves on staff in some capacity. How do you communicate this to your church leadership without coming across like you are whiny? Great post.

    • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks Brian. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this. You can let me sound whiny so you don’t have to! 🙂

  18. Chris on March 24, 2021 at 7:53 am

    I’d add that the most overlooked person in a church can be a pastor with no spouse! I am such a pastor and get invited to nothing, receive little concern or gratitude from the leadership and my looking for a new post is in part because of this.

  19. Rev. Diann Bailey on March 24, 2021 at 5:13 am

    Yes, and I would venture to add that male spouses of female pastors are ignored to an even greater extent. For the most part, female spouses get invited to events and into the life of the church. Many churches don’t know what to do with a male spouse or believe they are “too busy” with their jobs to get involved in church.

    • Jane Doe on March 24, 2021 at 8:39 am

      I was going to say the same thing! Also the spouse of any pastor on staff. Being a pastors spouse is very difficult. We have no voice.

  20. Peter Jeffrey on March 24, 2021 at 3:38 am

    This is so good. My spouse has poured her life into our church just as much as I have and encouraged me in ways that are so courageous yet she is at times invisible. I love this!!!

    • Cheryl on March 24, 2021 at 8:22 am

      My spouse is a staff pastor and I work full time as the main breadwinner in order to support our family. If I didn’t work, he couldn’t be a minister. I listen to all of his stories, encourage him to keep going, pray with him, and assure him of his call. Yet, I am unable to attend morning Bible studies or sometimes evening events when I have three kids at home and work deadlines looming. I am naturally reserved and I often feel very disconnected even when I feel that I have “put myself out there.” I do not feel called to co-pastor, but I do deeply long for connection.

      • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:45 pm

        I’m so sorry Cheryl. Praying for you and your husband after I send this.

        Jeff

    • Jeff Henderson on March 25, 2021 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks Jeffrey!

      Jeff

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