Saint Nietzsche: The Last True Atheist

There have been few men as great as the late Friedrich Nietzsche, and the longer he is gone, the more that I miss him. He was great in the same way a hurricane is great, or the Cambodian Genocide was great; he is great in that he lashed out viciously and consistently. No man, method, or morality was spared his worldview.

For that, Christianity owes this pillar of Atheism a great debt—perhaps one that cannot truly be repaid. For in a world of lukewarm ideals and smarmy podcasts built around cute little quips, Friedrich Nietzsche glows like a white-hot iron—and should that iron be heated by the very fires of Hell, at least it glows. When placed before God, there will be no question where Nietzsche stood, and that is more than can be said for many folks. Nietzsche may have descended into the very gut of the Inferno, but he never descended as low as modern intellectualism. At the Judgment Seat, there will be at least one man that God need not worry about being lukewarm.

Many have died dull deaths with dull ideas—whether because they are easy, or fashionable, or simple. Nietzsche was not one of them.

Nietzsche brings to the philosophical table a rare consistent idea (and it is wonderful that this atheist/academic is willing to approach the table at all). His argument is as smooth as glass and as round as a perfect sphere. This is notable for two reasons: (1) he is willing to talk about Truth as something that actually exists and (2) he is unswerving in applying his ideas to the cosmos around him. You can take Nietzsche worldview and philosophical ideas and spin them, flip them on their head, twist and kick and roll them, and they will always be the same, with the same logical application. It would do every Christian a favor (and every person who holds even the slightest concept of a Higher Power) to familiarize themselves with some of Nietzsche more well-known works. It will either destroy your faith or make it unshakeable, but either way, it will allow you to hear an honest man speaking honestly.

When Nietzsche said that religion is a means of the weak enslaving the strong to stop their own torment, he really meant it. Therefore, if you were strong, you should not allow the weak to enslave you with their petty morality. When Nietzsche said that there is no God watching over our lives, and that the best thing that humanity could do for itself was to have every creature be as strong and vibrant and powerful as it could be (which is the basis for Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), he really meant that man should be overpowering other men; after all, it would make humanity better. There was no room for limp-wristed justifications of “love your neighbor as yourself” after God was dead. Why should there be? It would make as much sense for an anarchist to say that all government is evil, but that we should keep an active military and police force; either the anarchist isn’t really an anarchist, or he is a coward, afraid of what his ideals will bring. If God is dead, there is no reason to keep the world dressed in His clothes.

Furthermore, Nietzsche ideas have been more or less applied in certain circumstances throughout history. When a rabid, National Socialist Germany held up the banner of the Übermensch[1] in the days preceding World War II, they were adopting Nietzsche’s idea’s, although they were grossly misapplied; after all, every man can be a Superman—he only need to be stronger than his neighbor. And why not? There is no God, there is no Judgment. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we disappear.

Of course, man does not do this. Even Nietzsche himself expressed repeated frustration with his inability to shed the shackles of his socially and religiously imposed conscience. But where Nietzsche was unique is that he did not stop trying. Modern atheism condemns religion for being a vehicle for men to do evil to other men (a claim that is not without credibility), but they allow evil, which means there is some good, which means there is some ideal that humanity is subject to, and has always been subject to, which means something established that ideal—at the very least, it exists outside of men and culture. It is always amusing to hear Christianity condemned for being so unlike Christ—as this is the silver bullet that will slay the concept of a divine Being. Look at all these people who believe in God—they don’t act like there’s a God, there must not be a God. Anger with God is understandable, but trying to keep the Second Commandment (“love your neighbor”) while discarding the First (“love your God”) is trying to hold up the roof without the walls.

Nietzsche understood this—if anything, he praised those who would abuse religion for being scheming and cunning. Where the chic intellectualism of our day would damn the Church for their abuse of power, Nietzsche would praise it, if only because it was clever enough to impose itself on the rest of the weak little lambs seeking shelter from the hawks. Nietzsche viewed religious authority as one hawk would view another—with the respect that comes from competition. After all, if he was anything, he was consistent. Honest, vicious, possibly insane, almost certainly evil (if not extremely misguided), and consistent. Why does it matter if people are “evil”? It doesn’t. If there is no Truth, than any social or religious institution that would restrict a man from being a Superman should be ignored.

The only problem with Nietzsche is that he is wrong. When he made his worldview, he shaped it into his image, with his knowledge, and while it is consistent, as with any created thing that is perfectly consistent, it is small-minded. Nietzsche was a man so focused on his crystal ball he couldn’t see the crystal sky above him or the crystal sea around him. He committed intellectual blasphemy, and should be regarded as such.

But the next time you get wrapped up in a debate where you are challenged that your faith in Christ is a vehicle for weakness and evil, think back upon Saint Nietzsche—the last true Atheist—and realize that there may have been bad Christians, but there is little more terrifying than a good Atheist.

[1] Over-man, or Superman

What if a Doctrine Feels Wrong?

When universalists look at the idea of people going to hell, they often have an emotional reaction. The idea of people going to hell ought to provoke an emotional reaction, and the number of missions agencies and the fact that people continue to join them and support them shows just what people are willing to do as they respond to that reaction. The universalists, rather than increase their missionary support and go to the mission field, decide instead that eternal damnation is not true. Universalists’ feelings are not wrong, but their doctrine is. Even so, what if a doctrine feels wrong? Does that indicate anything? Continue reading What if a Doctrine Feels Wrong?

Spiritual Warfare is Guerrilla Warfare

Spiritual warfare is hardly a neat war between the uniformed armies of equal countries, snapping up this bit of land with all those nice mines and factories in it or grabbing up that lucrative trade route. Spiritual warfare is guerrilla warfare. Satan is in a rebellion against God, so he can hardly sign a peace treaty and must fight to the bitter end, with dire consequences for humanity. Although we are bound up in an irregular war that defies neat solutions, although Christians are on the legitimate side and have to follow rules that the enemy does not, and although the smallest failure is a setback for the kingdom of God, Christians are free to pursue unconventional solutions, rely upon power that the enemy will never have, and the smallest victory is a step forward for the kingdom of God. Continue reading Spiritual Warfare is Guerrilla Warfare

On Smart Christianity: Not Just Interesting Ideas

There is not really a “beyond” in Christian theology, given that everything that we learn in Sunday school is still true when systematic theology rears its dogmatic head. It is impossible to transcend the basics. Although there is a “mere Christianity” that all Christians hold in common, it is possible, nay, desirable to elaborate upon what we believe and develop smart Christianity. The question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only or from the Father and the Son together was one issue at stake in the East-West Schism of 1054. The Pope’s decision to tack “and from the Son” onto the end of “proceeds from the Father” in the Nicene Creed spiritually means something. The theology that we believe goes into the kind of people that we become. As learned Christians elaborate upon “mere” Christianity, they are not merely playing a game for bookworms.

In The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky states,

If even now a political doctrine professed by the members of a party can so fashion their mentality as to produce a type of man distinguishable from other men by certain moral or psychical marks, a fortiori religious dogma succeeds in transforming the very souls of those who confess it. They are men different from other men, from those who have been formed by another dogmatic conception.

As Christians examine TULIP, papal supremacy, Arminian soteriology, and weigh the views of Christ’s divine-human composition, they make decisions about what kinds of people they are becoming. Belief Two builds upon Belief One, and believing that subtle distinctions in theology are just Star Trek vs. Star Wars arguments for nerds is in itself a Belief One that supports a Belief Two. What Christians do with people who disagree with them is in itself a spiritual decision. From the lady adding and subtracting dollars in the supermarket to the nuclear physicist playing with imaginary numbers in a top secret lab, while simple math is enough for practical matters, anyone looking at an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile in an exhibition lit by nuclear power knows that advanced math is also enough for practical matters.

Mere Christianity is powerful stuff. It helps Protestant and Catholic missionaries cooperate on the mission field to serve people with physical needs and leads Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox Christians to dig for their common roots. Even so, it is not an iron to press flat the various folds following the Good Shepherd. Transubstantiation is not just a funky Catholic idea, and the five Protestant “solas” as an expression of basic Christianity are not practically the same thing as the decisions handed down by the Council of Trent. Protestants and Catholics agreed in many areas as they reformed abuses in the Church, but Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries revealed a Protestant fresh perspective on the sanctity of Church property. If I am an ecclesiological pluralist, it is as a pragmatic maneuver to keep peace with people who love God. Because I believe that Calvinism is wrong, I argue against it when it comes up in conversation, but I have enjoyed fellowship in Reformed churches because they possessed enormous stocks of mere Christianity.

When I find myself debating with Calvinists, I make better progress with them than when I chat with agnostics. My disagreements with atheists and agnostics are actually flat and uninteresting compared to my disputes with Calvinists because of the extent to which we agree. Arguments within the game of Monopoly are far more heated than discussions of whether the game is worth playing. When we quote St. Augustine as saying, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity,” it is with the point of letting each other live long enough to make good progress in studying and obeying the truth. Even non-essentials matter, but we also believe that charity is true. Getting into advanced theology matters quite a bit, so when you have to let go of a position, be sure to do so as letting go of a lower rung to grasp a higher.

On Highbrow Christianity

Opera, classical music, wine tasting, craft beer, classical languages and literature: all these things exemplify highbrow taste. Highbrow interests require education and development of the ability to appreciate certain things, so arts that only developed agrarian or industrial cultures can produce (opera, classical music, literary culture) are relative marks of superiority. Anybody can brew and guzzle beer, but not just anyone can write and analyze a symphony. Anyone can become a Christian, but not just anyone can explain the differences between infallibility and inerrancy, read the New Testament in Greek, or compare modern cults to historical heresies. Theologians are more hipster than hipsters: they were highbrow before it was highbrow to be highbrow about being highbrow. Continue reading On Highbrow Christianity

Let’s Club ‘Em Into Heaven: Fighting with Grace

Rich Mullins tells a story about an argument he got into with a friend who happened to be an atheist. He explains how he attacked and attacked, constantly on the offensive, swatting away rejections and counterpoints, until he at last had his adversary logically cornered. He thought to himself, “Surely now he will see the validity of the Christian faith.” Instead, backed into that corner and with no remaining defense, his friend spat back at him, “I don’t want your God.”

And so it goes. Humankind is wont to argue, as certainly as sparks fly upward, and even more so amongst topics that are fundamental to a person’s self-conception. If people will come to blows over a sports team or a political party, imagine how abrasive an argument can get amongst those issues with which we define ourselves. We kick and fight and scratch over petty trifles and disagreements—we go to war over the big things. And why not? After all, we are logical human beings, ingratiated with that peculiar power of reason. All one has to do is talk clear enough, loud enough, and long enough, and the opposing party will come to realize their ignorance, and immediately repent of their foolish ways.

Unfortunately, men will often wield this power like a club, when it should be used like a scalpel. Instead of thinking about other’s viewpoints as a cancer—or if nothing else, unhealthy and unbecoming—we often do the exact opposite: we view the other person as an embodiment of their views. We do not think of them as sick people, but as sickness itself. Instead of prodding in with a razor’s edge out of a love of the individual, we go swinging in with our blunt cudgel and try to wail the other person into submission.

The best teachers in history went back even a step farther; instead of straightaway cutting in with a razor, they performed assessments to discern what was causing the symptoms. They were thoughtful, and deliberate and asked questions—as opposed to those foolish and dangerous debaters that ranted and raved in the town square. Plato, Aristotle, and Jesus would prod and nudge and question until the individual came to realize the truth for itself; they were agents of truth, sent to direct man’s gaze upward. Meanwhile, modern man seeks to bludgeon his neighbor into near unconsciousness, and when he is dazed and subdued, grab his head and force him to look into the sun.

Friedrich Nietzsche was this sort of man, as are a good number of Creationists, atheists, politicians, and others who are in the business of argumentation and debate; it is a fallen human trait that runs through all of us and manifests itself amongst the more significant controversies. This isn’t a judgment on any individual, for all man falls prey to this at least once in a while. Even the most deliberate thinker can lose his temper and reach for the dull club of argumentative reason. However, when resorting to this tactic, one is missing the heart of the whole issue. They use a Louisville Slugger when the illness calls for a CAT scan and the kind steel of a surgeon’s tools.

There is no clearer manifestation of this than in issues of faith. There are certain men who have taken upon themselves a crusade to disband and tear at organized religion. It transcends mere disagreement and dialogue; instead, it borders on jihadism, targeting even vague conceptions of God. In response to this, the modern religious community—for this example, the Christian church—has raised up a small army of warriors and given them the title of “apologist.” They instructed them in the ancient art of healing and persuasion, in the manner of Socrates and Yeshua, and they set them forth to exhort and strengthen the Body of Christ. In some manner, this call is extended to every member of the church. We are called by Peter to have a defense for our faith; so we turn to our sergeants-in-arms—Lewis, Descartes, Augustine—and we march out to meet the endless hordes assembled outside the walls of the church.

Most fulfill their obligations well. They reach in with their tools and prod and poke and “demolish every argument and pretension that sets itself against the knowledge of God.”[1] They deal with their brothers and sisters with gentleness and respect, fighting with grace. As a result, they never make the news, never become famous, and through all things, seek to love their neighbor, because Christ first loved them. They are the kind souls that lay down their arms and their pride in lieu of peace and compassion.

However, like any human being, many others fall prey to the sin of wielding the club too readily. Instead of viewing their opponents as patients, or even misguided foes, they personify them as their intellectual views, and in doing so, beat men to death under the guise of trying to save their lives. They attempt to drag their opposition, gnashing and wailing, through the Pearly Gates. Failing that, they resort to throwing mud and trash; if they can’t win, neither can their opponents.

This should not be; never should a Christian enter an argument for the sole purpose of winning— what good will this do? How will Christ be glorified if we attack our enemies with the same viciousness and neglect that they attack us? Was any man ever reasoned or argued into Heaven? Was the Cross lifted up over Jerusalem so that men could come and debate with the blood-stained Christ?

We argue where we should love. We fight where we should extend an olive branch. This doesn’t give a license for weakness, for it requires a special kind of strength to restrain oneself when besieged on all sides; passive aggressive statement such as, “I’m not going to respond to that” have no place in the Christian’s dialogue with those outside the faith. But always remember the foundation of our faith—Jesus Christ. I was not saved because I was logically dragged into the temple courts and thrown before the Messiah; I was saved because the Messiah loved me. This love is the only thing that can save anyone.

[1] 2 Corinthians 10:5

In Defense Of The Pope

I am a Protestant.  Not only a Protestant, but an evangelical.  And not only an evangelical, but a Calvinist.  In short, I have no love for the Papacy.  I do not believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, nor is he in any meaningful sense the successor of the Apostle Peter.  When it comes to Christian doctrine, especially the gospel, the Papacy obscures rather than illuminating the truth of Scripture.

Having established my Reformation bona fides, however, I do believe the Pope serves a different kind of role in modern Western culture, an important role that he is uniquely suited for.

Due to all the papal fervor in the news after Benedict XVI’s resignation I started reading one of his many books, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures.  In it, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger carefully lays out a cultural and philosophical critique of the Enlightenment and her children, modernity and secularism.  He makes a persuasive case for Christianity as both a philosophical grounding for science and ethics and a cultural powerhouse, enabling creativity and promoting a freedom that is not self-destructive.

This is the sort of apologetics that many Christians, especially evangelicals, are becoming accustomed to.  Events and programs geared toward “defending the faith” are on the rise, spearheaded by institutions such as Biola.  The difficulty that such programs are encountering today is that fewer people are listening.  Increasingly people inhabit niche entertainment bubbles that are difficult to break through.  Between Netflix and RSS feeds, daily media consumption is made to order.  Major news outlets such as the New York Times or NBC, which still have some residual power to cut into these bubbles, are not likely to cover the latest William Lane Craig debate.  And yet one thing these same outlets cannot seem to get enough of is the Roman Catholic church.  This isn’t surprising.  Left leaning news organizations love to hate Christianity, and Catholics provide the easiest target.  The Catholic church is the largest and most visible single organization that claims to represent Christianity.  Moreover they are monolithic, such that a reporter can reasonably expect to get “the Catholic answer” to some question.  In contrast, you can speak to 100 different Protestant pastors and reasonably expect 100 different answers.

In short, the unique standing of Roman Catholicism on the world stage provides its leader, the Pope, with a unique platform;  the true bully pulpit.

Again, I would not actively promote Catholic dogma, but when the Pope is addressing the entire world, especially non-Christians, he tends to speak more broadly and philosophically, and not dogmatically.  In Crisis of Cultures, Ratzinger does not address at length the bodily assumption of Mary, as that would be counter productive.  He instead focuses on the common heritage of the West against modern secularism and Islam, which includes some ancient Greek and Roman thought as well as “Judeo-Christianity.”

And this is what I have in mind for the Pope’s unique role.  Rather than the actual head of the Christian church, which he is not, I view the Pope as a kind of figurehead of Western civilization.  The bar for this position is set decidedly lower than for the head of the church.  Just as I don’t worry too much about the specific doctrinal beliefs of the US President, It doesn’t matter much whether the “Head of Western Civilization” is a Calvinist or Arminian, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist.  Basically, he only needs to be a Trinitarian and a Platonist (to some extent) in the vein of Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, or C. S. Lewis.  Even the Trinity is not strictly necessary, since the broader Western tradition includes Jews and some of the ancients as well as Christians, but I would argue that it was Christianity specifically that produced the art, science and political thought of the modern Western world.  Popes also tend to have the benefits of first rate intellects and educations, else they aren’t likely to be elevated to such high positions.

All of this, then, gives us a man who has a solid grounding in the best philosophical aspects of the Western heritage, combined with social and moral teachings that all traditional Christians and Jews agree with, and he has the largest and most visible platform of any public figure in the world.  There are obvious drawbacks to a monolithic organization like the Catholic church, as the recent sex abuse scandals make clear.  Such problems can be overcome, however, and the moral and intellectual authority of the Pope does not rest on any supposed claim to perfection.  Instead, this authority rests upon the power and persuasiveness of the ideas to which the Pope appeals and seeks to defend.  The ideas of the West.

Thus, when we consider the cultural battle lines being drawn between the heritage of the West and the forces of postmodern secularism, atheism, radical feminism, etc, I think evangelicals can recognize the important role of the Pope on a cultural and sometimes political level without giving into the error of trying to erase all doctrinal distinctinves (or pretending that they do not matter), undoing the important work of the Reformation.  We can join hapily in the public square with Roman Catholics on issues like abortion, just as we would with Orthodox Jews or Muslims, without pretending that we are all one church with an identical gospel.  And we do so recognizing that the Pope provides us all with a powerful voice;  one that Western culture desperately needs.

Theodicy of Glory

“A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality…”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Caution: The following post contains a slight spoiler to G. K. Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday.  Read the book and then come back to read this afterwards. I’ll wait.


Given an omnipotent, fully good and loving God, why do good people suffer?

That is the question for the ages. The suffering of bad people, of evil people, is (for some) an easier question. There is a notion of cosmic reparation, whether of impersonal karma or personal Justice, that provides an explanation on that front. But what of good people?

That, at least, is a question asked repeatedly by characters in G. K. Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday, and the answers Chesterton hints at are some of the most incredible I have ever read.

But first, we must eliminate the greatest of the false trails apologists often stray down: that human goodness is never good enough in comparison to Christ’s perfection. This relativity, while actual, is nonetheless irrelevant. The goodness and righteousness even of fallen humanity is real enough and meaningful enough to be attested to even from the throne of Jehovah himself. I trust ye have heard of the patience of Job?

The question, therefore, is not one of goodness. Any answer which depends on any concept of “deserving” is no answer at all, but merely a dodge—a dodge in the finest tradition of miserable comforters and worthless physicians the world over.

Having avoided the dodge, we return to Chesterton, who illuminates a facet of theodicy that I have never before and never again seen illuminated so clearly and eloquently:

Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? … So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan  may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’ No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’

This is what I have long thought of as the “theodicy of glory.” Without adversity, there can be no perseverance, only the potential for perseverance. Without overwhelming odds, there can be no valor. Without fear, there can be no bravery.

And without these things, each and every believer is subject to the great accusation that begins the conflict in Job. Without these things, we are unproven, untested, and even Satan himself could rightly claim to have persevered through suffering, while we ourselves could not. Without this, all the saints are open to the accusation that they loved God merely because they were safe, and not for any other reason.

Why do the people of God often feel alone? Why do they often suffer? Why do they, at times, seem to fight against the entire world?

So that they may stand firm despite their loneliness. So that they may remain resolute in their suffering. So that they may feel the same distress and pain as those who reject God, yet emerge victorious.

And by this, by their blood and sweat and tears, the people of God may earn the right to say with pride, “I have fought the good fight, though armies were against me. I have finished the race, though terrible obstacles stood in my path. And I have kept the faith, though the world itself tried to take it from me.”

Having passed through the fire and emerged triumphant, the saints will take no heed of the Accuser, for his talk is meaningless. And at the end, they will receive their crown of righteousness from nail-scarred hands and hear the voice which echoed from the cross of Calvary say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thursday is, in many important ways, a parallel of the book of Job, and this is as far as the story of Job takes us. Thursday, however, goes further. Job (and Thursday himself) are thus free from the accusation of safeness and surety and happiness. But to Chesterton, the final piece of the puzzle is found when God—the same God who spoke out of the whirlwind in power and majesty—places himself on the cross and refuses to come down. In this way God himself puts the Accuser forever to shame, and proves that he is God and he is Good even when he is not safe, even when he is not happy.

And while this may not always put my reason at ease, I can say, along with Thursday, that it puts my heart and soul at ease.

Answering in the Negative: What Suffering Isn’t?

Over at CNN’s religion blog, Timothy Keller wrote a bit about the age-old problem of pain and suffering: what do we conclude about God when we observe suffering for some people and not for others? He suggests and dismisses a number of responses, including “There is no God,” which he says doesn’t really help solve the problem; “God is not in control,” which stands at odds with our normal conception of God, and thus is unhelpful in this case; “God rewards good people, and punishes bad people,” which Job easily refutes; and, finally, “God knows better, so be quiet,” which Mr. Keller finds ‘cold.’ While I tend to latch onto the last answer, at least in my personal life, I suspect he’s on to something when he dismisses it for these reasons. It takes a certain personality type to run with that answer. Continue reading Answering in the Negative: What Suffering Isn’t?

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?

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