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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