Good Questions, Bad Timing

This article at The Gospel Coalition blog reminded me of how difficult it is to lead together. Leading in a church involves not only those who attend the leadership meetings, but also their spouses, and it’s vital that everyone works together.

I’ll give you a small example of how subtle and difficult leading together can be.  Twice a year our congregation gathers for business meetings and inevitably one of the spouses of either a staff member or a fellow elder will ask questions in those public meetings.  The questions are often good questions, but the timing is bad.  I rarely say never, but…

      The spouses of church leaders should never ask questions in public gatherings.

Why? Because everyone knows that the spouses of leaders have, or at least should have, unique access to the information being discussed in the public meeting.  This means that when the spouse of a church leader asks a question in a public forum, it can only be interpreted by the congregation in negative way. Here are some of the conclusions that the congregation is forced to draw when this happens, none of which are good.

  1. The church leaders aren’t talking with their spouses about critical church matters. In this scenario, the congregation is forced to conclude that either the leader doesn’t care enough about the issues of the church to discuss them at home, or, even worse, that they don’t care enough about their spouse to make sure their questions are answered before the meeting.  At any rate, the congregation can easily conclude that communication within the marriages of the church leaders isn’t good.
  2. The spouse feels their mate needs help in leading the meeting. In this scenario, the congregation is left to conclude that the spouse of a the church leader is trying to rescue them.  It’s kind, of course, of the spouse to want to help, but the congregation is left to conclude that this particular spouse has lost confidence in church leadership.  While it is entirely possible that the leader does need help, the time to help comes before the meeting, not during the meeting.
  3. The spouse is asking the question in a public forum because they have been asked by leadership to publicly raise the issue.  This is not uncommon in American politics, as political leaders will often plant people in an audience for the purpose of asking particular questions, which the politician is ready and eager to address.  However, church leadership shouldn’t play political games with the congregation. Leadership should be bold enough to raise all issues that need to be addressed without planting questions within the congregation.
  4. The spouse is asking the question because they are at odds with leadership and they are trying to confront them publicly in a last-ditch effort to force them to act in a certain manner. Obviously, this is one of the worst possible conclusions that congregants might draw, and leadership should certainly not fight in front of others. If a spouse of either a staff member or an elder feels that they have been unsuccessful in resolving an issue through private meetings, then public confrontation might be appropriate at some point. However, this should only be used as a last resort and will always require an immense amount of work to process.

Of course, encouraging the spouses of church leaders not to ask questions in public meetings may seem controlling, but with just a little bit of work before and after these meetings the spouses of church leadership can actually come away feeling cared for well, even empowered as leaders themselves.  Here’s how it works best.

  • Encourage all church leadership to spend time with their spouses discussing the meeting agenda before the meeting.
  • Check in with church leadership, asking about how these pre-meeting discussions went, and make yourself available to those who have further questions or concerns.
  • Follow up after meetings with all leaders, asking how their spouse felt about the meeting and what if any questions/concerns they might have.

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