By Joe McKeever
“You’re about to see the worst side of the best people.”
This is what my friend Glenda, a longtime office manager for a Baptist association, tells those coming to work in their office for the first time to prepare them for dealing with ministers and church leaders.
It’s an important word.
Not everyone is suited—temperamentally, spiritually, whatever—to handle all that happens in a church or ministry staff.
Colossians 3:23-24 speaks to all God’s children, but has special relevance to those who would serve the Lord’s churches. “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”
There are many positions I haven’t held, but as pastor, I’ve worked in the church office all my adult life. I recently put out a call to a group of friends for advice for someone going to work in a church office for the first time.
Here are some of their answers. Come to think of it, these are pieces of good advice whether you’re just starting out working on a church staff or you’ve been doing this for decades.
1. Remember why you’re really there.
Keep reminding yourself it’s not a job; it’s a ministry.
2. Be humble.
You will need a servant’s heart. If you don’t have one, it’s not going to work. One friend said, “When you arrive in the morning, make the coffee.” I’ve known a few people who didn’t want to condescend to bringing the boss his or her coffee.
3. Be trustworthy.
Confidentiality is crucial. You’ll see and hear things you can’t speak of. You may learn how much money certain ones give to the Lord—and who gives none! Or you may learn who in the congregation has a struggling marriage. But you can’t tell, period.
Also, be mindful to not participate in inter-office gossip. Let it stop with you.
4. Lower your expectations.
We’re all works in progress. No one is perfect. The ministers, church leaders, operations people, and administrative assistants are human, and you’re about to see evidence of it.
5. Treat people with deference.
Love and respect every person who comes into the office or to any church event. You represent the Lord Jesus Christ and you represent this church (whether or not your membership is there).
6. Consider belonging to a different church.
Several suggested you may want to belong to a different church if you don’t hold a non-ministry role, such as an accountant, IT manager, or administrative assistant. Otherwise, when you show up on Sunday, you may be besieged by members who want information, the key to the closet, or some copies made.
7. Stay in the Word.
There’s no substitute for your being a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus. This means staying in the Word, praying, and laboring to be Christ-like in everything.
8. Welcome interruptions.
You’ll have 20 a day. They aren’t disruptions to your job; they are your job.
9. Always be ready to minister.
A pastor friend suggested you work on your counseling skills and have a few key Scriptures to which you can refer easily as needed. There are times you will end up being a “front line minister.” Don’t let this frighten you. Keep your eyes on the Lord and relax.
10. Keep appropriate boundaries.
With the help of your leadership create boundaries and maintain them. That is, know what you should not do, shouldn’t be asked to do, etc.
11. Commit to excellence.
Go for excellence in your work. Whether it means learning the best way to answer the phone, perfecting your written communication, or being proactive in lightening the load for others on staff, you can help your leader be the best minister they can be.
12. Have fun with your colleagues.
There should be break times in the morning and afternoons when you can sit around the table and relax and chat. Laugh together, love each other, and encourage one another.
Be active in local ministry associations. Participate in their periodic or annual gatherings. You’ll make some great friends, and that will come in handy when you run into a problem and need advice.
14. Involve senior adults.
If yours is a small staff, the work can seem overwhelming, and this can create a sense of disharmony. Try to enlist a couple of senior adults to volunteer for a few hours each week.
They can answer the phone while you’re in staff meeting or do busy work (stuff envelopes, fold bulletins, etc.) to assist you. Seniors love to do this.
Lou Holtz, legendary football coach and motivational speaker, tells of the time he flew into Chicago in the middle of the night and took a cab to the hotel where he was to speak the next day.
Since it was after midnight, the lobby was deserted and he had a hard time summoning the desk clerk. Finally, a big burly guy came from the back, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Don’t have a room,” he said. “We’re full up.”
Holtz said, “Sir, I have a reservation.”
The clerk said, “Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said no rooms.” Lou Holtz said, “Sir, I’m speaking in this hotel at 10 in the morning. I have a guaranteed reservation for a room in this hotel.”
The clerk got testy. “Mister,” he said, “I don’t care who you are or what you’ve got. I’ve got the keys and I’m telling you, you’re not getting a room in this hotel tonight.”
Lou Holtz then told his audience, “I walked out into the cold night air with two things on my mind: How to find a room in the middle of the night in Chicago. And for the rest of my life, I’ll never to miss a chance to slam that hotel!”
His audience laughs, but I cringe at the story.
That desk clerk is the nightmare of every hotel manager and owner. He’s not the highest paid employee but he can make or break a business.
As a church employee—whether you’re receptionist, ministry assistant, or the pastor—you are on the “front desk,” both for the Lord Jesus Christ and for this church.
People are going to be making important decisions—trusting Christ, coming to this church—and much of it will have to do with how well you and I represent Him.
If that’s not enough to drive you to your knees in prayer, you’re not paying attention.