On the proper care and feeding of a church secretary

Hello, my name is Rachel, and I am a burnt out former church secretary.

The Stuff Christians Like blog had a post on the church secretary, the most powerful person in the church some time ago.  It’s eerily accurate, but I laughed especially hard when I read this in the comments section:

When the only church secretary I ever knew concluded her job was too stressful, she decided to take it easy and go to law school. Then run her own law firm. That pretty much tells me what I need to know about the craziness of being a church secretary.

I don’t doubt it.  I’m in my twenties, but it only took a few years in a small church office to burn me out—and I worked at an especially healthy church, full of good people who cared about helping me thrive.  Not every secretary—and certainly not every pastor—is as fortunate as I was when it comes to interacting with co-workers.

Even so, now that I spend much of my time writing about terrorists and the people who fund them, I find that it’s a lot less stressful than working at a church.

Burnout does not have to be inevitable, however.  With proper care your church secretary can provide you with faithful service, administrative magic, and (if you are especially lucky) entertainment for years to come. Here are a few tips for pastors interested in hiring and properly maintaining a church secretary of their very own:

Church administration is more than just a job.  It’s a very specific ministry, a ministry that not everyone is called to. (My early burnout probably means I’m not. I can’t be the only one!

Don’t think of your secretary as a mere employee, but as a fellow minister of the Gospel.  As such he or she can be a tremendous resource, uniquely equipped to lend a caring hand and ear to both you and the rest of the congregation.  She may notice things about the congregation that you don’t, because people may tend to treat her differently than they treat you.  Pay attention—this can help you understand your flock a little better.

On the other hand, church administration is more than just a ministry.  It’s also a job, and a very challenging job at that. Research what other administrative management positions in your area pay, and match or exceed that number. A good administrator will more than pay for himself by saving your church time, money, and other resources—he’s an investment you really can’t afford to scrimp on.

Be prepared to evaluate both her administrative prowess and her ability to work with people—do the people in your church feel comfortable approaching him?  Can she be trusted with confidential information?  Can she think on her feet when a hungry drug addict wanders into the office?  How will he respond when a new widow calls and asks how to plan her husband’s funeral?

Pastors, you already know how demanding your position can be—your church secretary will face some of the same emotionally-charged challenges. How well can he bounce back?  And how will you recognize and reward him for good work done in both the office and the reception room?

Some churches hire all their employees from outside the congregation, while others prefer to work with their own parishioners.  Will you hire a member of your congregation, or an “outsider”?

Whichever you decide, this decision is much more important than you may realize.  A member can bring a convenient amount of background knowledge to your office, but an outsider tends to command more respect.  A church member may know all about each family’s unique needs, but an employee who attends church elsewhere will be less troubled by those needs when she goes home at the end of the day.  Either way, make sure your congregation understands that they must respect the secretary’s days off—just as they must respect yours.  This isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Jon Acuff was right: in a way, the church secretary really is one of the most important people in your church.  She’s probably the only person who knows about the dozens of tiny, unseen tasks that keep your office moving.  And the only one who understands the copy machine’s myriad idiosyncrasies.  And no one else can remember how to print the church bulletin—you get the idea.  More importantly, though, she’s the public face of the church to a lot of people—Christ’s representative to your neighborhood. Make sure she has the resources to be an able representative, and then treat her with the same dignity you would treat Christ himself.  You won’t regret it, and neither will your congregation.

My boss at the church understood this last point especially well—will you?

Image credit

Published by

Rachel Motte

Rachel Motte is a freelance writer, journalist and editor specializing in social issues, educational affairs, and international religious freedom. Her work has appeared at CNN.com, The Evangelical Outpost, The New Ledger, the Daily Caller, and in Jonah Goldberg’s recent anthology, Proud to Be Right. She is an alumna of Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, the Leadership Institute, and the World Journalism Institute. Rachel may be reached at rachel[at]rachelmotte[dot]com.

  • Pingback: On the proper care and feeding of a church secretary — Evangelical … | church growth ministry()

  • Pingback: On the proper care and feeding of a church secretary — Evangelical … | healthychurchnow.com()

  • Edgar C.

    All of you people need to open your eyes and understand that there is no invisible person in the sky. If there was, the world would be made of sugar plums and gum fairies. But no, it’s not. Get your pants back on and understand that there is no such thing as a God, just a finite universe that will eventually collapse on itself and blow up space as well as time. Its time for you people to stop being so ignorant.

  • Bob W

    Just wanted to let you know I enjoyed this post.  I’m going to think about how to encourage our secretaries better.

  • JJ

    I’m praying for you.

  • Secretary

    Thank you so much for the encouraging words. I am a church secretary who was close to burn out under our previous pastor. I was told that I had to be available 24-7 and that if I didn’t then I didn’t see my job as a ministry, but when it came to overseeing a couple of helps ministries that were part of my job description before he came.  I was told that ministry was not my responsibility. It had gotten to the point that I didn’t show up for any church events
    and only just before the service and then would leave immediately after the service so I wouldn’t be told there was work that needed to be done on my
    day off. The only real compliment I got was that I made him look good, by doing some of the behind the scenes things that he never did but got the credit for. I was ever so grateful for his leaving and it has been about 6 months that he has been gone and I am just starting to feel confident in myself again and feel free to come to church for any event without worry that I don’t have the right to say no to a task if it is something that I can take care of on Monday. In fact he was so rude that when I thought I might have had breast cancer his only concern was that I needed to train a couple people in to replace me while I was out from surgery and whatever treatment I might need. As for recognition that never happened. If I did get a gift for a holiday it was a regifted item that was in bad shape and I would either have to throw it away or clean it up. I never received a thank you on Administrative Appreciation day. I treated him with respect and gave gifts when appropriate for birthdays/anniversaries and such, but the last 6 months I finally said enough was enough and even stopped gifting him.  It was very hard working under him and even the new youth pastor he hired picked up his same attitude and it has slowly gotten better with him as he has come to realize that he also was treated in a condescending way. Our work relationship has gotten much better since the SP left. I have taken on a second part time job for the tax season and I can’t believe how the boss and the employees are nice to me. I have gotten better treatment from them than I did from a “church pastor.” Which I find really sad. But that is the way it is and am praying that the next SP and I will have a much better working relationship.