Today is Administrative Professionals Day. In that honor, I’m sharing a guest post by Linda Gillis. Linda is a retired Church Secretary, Speaker, and Author of the Incidents and Inspiration from the Church Office meditation series for church support staff. You can find her ministry online at souly4you.com
Church Staff – a Totem Pole or Bicycle Wheel?
In doing research for my new book, Preachin’ to the Pastor … and anyone else who will listen, I am interviewing church support staff around the United States. My first interview began with Pam (name changed to protect her position), a seasoned secretary in a mid-size congregation in an upper-middle class community. She serves alone in the office as the office manager/secretary and support to two pastors, a music director, financial secretary, and a part-time janitor. We chatted over lunch and shared similar incidents from working in a church office.
After lunch, I began the interview by asking Pam, “How would you define your ministry at this church?” She hesitated before saying, “I’m the low man on the totem pole. Even the janitor gets more respect than I do.” As she continued to speak, tears formed in her eyes. “I’m the last one to learn what’s going on around here and the first one to hear all the gripes…. I work hard and go home feeling crushed. I’d quit, but I need this job. Deep inside, I really do want to work here.”
In my mind, I pictured Pam at the base of a totem pole with the janitor straddling on her shoulders and the other staff members wobbling above him. At the top of the pole, the two pastors are perched side by side with outstretched arms, forming the shape of a cross. I thought for a moment before saying, “Pam, in some ways, as the office support person, you are the low “man” on the totem pole, but you shouldn’t feel the weight of everyone above you.”
In most cases, the threshold of the office is where ministry begins in the church—when the telephone rings or someone walks into the office. The support staff is trained and available to assist pastors, musicians, youth directors, boards, and members of the church to more effectively enable the ministry of serving God. They are not hired just to produce mounds of paper, put out fires, or to pay the bills! However, an office staff is only as strong as those who serve above them on the “totem pole.” When chaos begins at the top (or anywhere on the pole), the ripple effect causes the ground beneath the office to quake, resulting in low staff morale and stress-related burnout.
Instead of visualizing a church staff as a totem pole, I prefer to think of it as a bicycle wheel. The hub (the church office) is the strength of the wheel, but a hub is of no use without the rest of the wheel. It takes many “spokes” (the pastors, lay ministers, musicians, janitors, etc.) attached to the rim and tire (the council, committees, members of the congregation) to accomplish the mission of the church. When the bearings in the hub rotate freely about the axle, the wheel turns smoothly. However, if one or more spokes attached to the hub shell breaks (or a bearing wears out), the wheel begins to wobble and become unsteady—making for an uncomfortable ride.
Be it a totem pole or a bicycle wheel, every one serving in a church deserves respect and encouragement for his or her ministry. No one should feel the weight of the rest of the staff or be out of balance with one another.
Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Galations 6:2,3 (The Message)
Pastor, give a shout out to those who help you do what you do!