Working with a nonsupportive pastor.

A church secretary was in tears when she came to work one Monday morning. She had left her desk in the church office neat and tidy on Friday; by Monday morning it was covered with scribbled notes, leftover Sunday bulletins, fingerprints, a wad of Kleenex, and broken pencils and scraps of paper.

Another church secretary declared she was ready to quit. She had announced a deadline when items for inclusion in the church newsletter were to be in her office. The announcement was made repeatedly—several times in the Sunday bulletin, in the newsletter itself, and posted on the church bulletin board. But on deadline day, just as she was typing the last page of the newsletter, the pastor handed her another announcement that had to be included. “It’s from Mrs. Jones,” he said. “She forgot you had a deadline.”

Another church secretary gritted her teeth as she attempted to type a Sunday school roster. At a vacant table in her office, located but a few feet from her desk, were several church members sipping coffee, talking, and laughing. Every now and then one of them would stop the secretary to ask her a question, or to involve her in their discussion. When the pastor entered, he greeted the people warmly, and joined the conversation.

All three of these church secretaries work with pastors who are not supportive, or pastors who are not using good principles of office management. Certainly the pastor must work on his sermons, call on members and prospective members, attend meetings, and attend to many more details in doing his job. But it is also his responsibility to see that the church office is managed well. This includes overseeing the church secretary and helping her to use her time well.

The church secretary who complained and showed the pastor the mess on her desk, was told by the pastor that the members of the congregation had a right to use the church office on weekends.

The pastor who brought Mrs. Jones’s announcement to the church secretary at the last minute didn’t stop to think about the extra work and inconvenience that late insertion meant for the secretary. He was oblivious to the fact that it demanded additional time to retype a page, and to eliminate other items in order to fit Mrs. Jones’s announcement in the newsletter.

The pastor who greeted the office visitors so warmly was certainly pleasing the members—but he failed to notice that the secretary was distracted and having a difficult time concentrating on her work.

Granted that a pastor who has both a congregation to serve and a secretary working for him is often between a rock and a hard place. But there is no excuse for inefficient management and a careless attitude that denies support the secretary needs. The church secretary herself can attempt to put things right by presenting her problem to the pastor—along with a suggested solution. Of course, if the pastor continually ignores her pleas in favor of the demands of the congregation, perhaps she should be seeking employment elsewhere.

There is an easy solution to the first secretary’s problem of her misused desk. She and the pastor should discuss the situation and decide together on a satisfactory solution. For example, they might put out a plea to the congregation for a used desk or table and then find a spot for it in the church office—or better, outside the church office—and supply it with paper, pens, pencils, etc. The congregation then should be told that this desk is for their use on evenings and weekends. The church secretary’s desk and/or office thus might be locked when she’s not there. The secretary also could provide a folder labeled “messages for the church secretary” and leave it in a regular place.

Finding a solution to the second church secretary’s problem is not so simple. That secretary needs to sit down with her pastor and explain that, although she understands his position, she can’t make efficient use of her time if she is consistently confronted with missed deadlines. She and the pastor should come to an agreement about deadlines, perhaps deciding that any late arrivals would be posted instead on the bulletin board. If the pastor supports her in this, the congregation will be more apt to meet deadlines. Someone whose “important” notice gets left out will not be so apt next time to forget about the deadline.

In the third situation, the secretary should talk to the pastor and point out the problems created by constant interruptions, and ask him to help her find a solution. She might suggest partitioning off her work area, or putting chairs and a coffee pot in a separate room. A pastor and a church secretary ought to be able to work out a satisfactory solution; but if the pastor insists that members are welcome to use the church office for social gatherings any time they wish, the church secretary can do something else: when people crowd into the office, she can pour herself a cup of coffee and join them. Eventually, when the pastor sees that work is not being done, he may finally be spurred to do something about the problem.

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Job descriptions for most church secretaries state the personal qualifications that are necessary, the loyalties that are expected, and what the secretary’s attitude toward her job, the congregation, and the pastor should be. Perhaps a paragraph could be added that states what the secretary should be able to expect in return. It seems reasonable for her to expect that the pastor will support her in matters involving her working conditions, fair treatment by the congregation in what it expects of her, and the space that is provided in which she is to do her job.

The members of the congregation come first, and in nearly all instances, both the pastor and church secretary are aware of this fact; the needs of people do take priority over details of the job. But the church secretary is a person, too, as is the pastor, and perhaps they need to remind each other of this fact from time to time. Regularly scheduled staff meetings, even if they consist of only ten to fifteen minutes each Monday morning, would give both the pastor and the church secretary an opportunity to solve problems such as these before they become too big to handle easily. It is possible that a pastor appears to be nonsupportive when he simply doesn’t discern that the church secretary is unhappy or frustrated.

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