What Should You Consider in Hiring a Secretary?
Neil A. Kuyper
The church needs a full-time secretary in the office. Please call the pastor if you are interested,” read the church bulletin announcement on Sunday morning. Mildred reads this notice as she sits with her husband in church. Her mind drifts during the sermon. This is the opportunity she has been looking for in the past months. Bill, their last son, has left for college. Her husband is busy teaching school. She has just turned 50. Why not revive the career which was hers when they first married? She would like to serve the Lord in this church that has been hers for the past 20 years.
At noon that day she makes the announcement to Fred. “I am going to call the pastor.”
As Pastor Johnson receives the call that afternoon, he is a bit taken by surprise. He has known Fred and Mildred all these years in the church. Their faithfulness has been his support in many complex committee meetings. But to have Mildred as his secretary-this might be different. A wall had built between him and his last secretary. He had used her as his confidante in his personal life and with his congregation members. He did not want to make the same mistake. He pondered, how can I do things differently with Mildred?
Suggestions for setting up a new plan of action for Pastor Johnson came from meeting with 125 church secretaries on a day-long seminar. They also came from calling church secretaries in churches ranging from membership of 240 members to 2,500. The thoughts which follow for Pastor Johnson come to counteract the stress, headaches and pain reported by secretaries. These positive suggestions come from ways secretaries believe stress can be relieved. Since most church secretaries are women, I will use the feminine gender, realizing, of course, there may be exceptions. While I use the male gender with Pastor Johnson, it could also apply to the Rev. Mrs. Johnson as well.
As Pastor Johnson sits down that Monday morning alone in his study, he begins to write down ideas of how it will be different with Mildred as his secretary. He is going to discuss this with her when she comes for the interview that afternoon.
1. This time Mildred is not going to be my confidante either with my marriage or congregation members. I am going to set up some boundaries. I want Mildred to keep confidences when people call the church or come in for counseling; but she will not be a catalyst for my frustrations with people and family. I will need to share these concerns with my wife, another pastor or some other professional in the community.
2. With the last secretary I became such a friend that I felt I could not criticize her for mistakes. This time I want a professional relationship where I can expect work to be done, be open about expectations, allow for anger to be expressed as well as appreciation. I want to be friendly but not friends. By keeping some distance, we can keep perspective on our work. Since she is a church member, we need to discuss this.
3. Poor planning was really my fault. I remember how upset Karen was when I dumped a whole load of work on her desk on a Friday afternoon. Those quick changes in the bulletin or the surprise mailouts really helped build the wall of hostility between us. Now I will meet with Mildred every Tuesday morning to plan the week. No surprises for Mildred.
4. Karen always complained about interruptions on the phone, persons dropping in to chat and the stream of people who were wanting help from the church. Maybe I can train Mildred to keep to business on the phone and stay away from feeling that she has to make every phone call a social event. The church does not have a clear policy on helping the hungry people who come to the door. It is time we set a policy. The phone still is our lifeline to the community and the congregation. Maybe I can help Mildred handle it so that every call is not looked upon as an intrusion into the life of the church office.
5. The church office really is a disaster area. Church school material is stored that predates two of my predecessors. It has been 10 years since it had a new coat of paint. The typewriter ought to go to the local museum. The lighting is so poor that you almost have to use braille to read in that office. Now is the time for change. I will bet Fred would help. He knows good lighting from the school business. Why should we wait any longer?
6. Karen was always unhappy with her salary. While she never verbalized it because we were friends, I knew it was a sore point. I felt it when she typed my salary when the church budget was presented. On her last day on the job, she said this is one place you are “overworked and underpaid.” This hurt. But this is not going to happen with Mildred!
Why is it that the church has never paid pensions, has made no provision for sick leave, has provided no health benefits or even allows for merit increases for the secretary? I expect these things as a pastor.
While Mildred may have many of these benefits from Fred, yet would it be fair to consider Fred’s benefits and salary when hiring Mildred? What if they divorced, or if Fred died? What does Mildred have for herself?
Maybe now this church will not be looked upon as a second-rate place in the way we pay secretaries.
7. I know that Mildred will be alone in the building on many occasions when I am on visitation, at committee meetings or studying at home. Karen used to be frightened at times by strangers who came into the building. I recall her telling of a young man who dropped in and kept testing her out to see if she was alone in the building. Finally a parishioner stopped by the church and the young man left. I dismissed fear as unnecessary. I recall my saying, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” That really was a putdown to Karen. She could really have been in danger.
It is time the church installs an emergency bell at the desk. Then if Mildred is alone in the building and she rings the bell, at least it will give the pretense that there are others in the building. The days the custodian is here, he at least will answer it.
8. Congregation members used to come in to talk to Karen about the church. They criticized the hymns being used. Others complained because I did not call on them. Their complaints demoralized Karen. This time I am going to ask Mildred to refer complainers directly to me. She can thank them for sharing these criticisms with her, then suggest they go directly to me.
In the last pastorate where I was the assistant, I complained to the secretary because I was allowed to preach only four times a year. The senior pastor used to complain to her about my work with youth groups and implied I was lazy. She used to go home with splitting headaches.
With Mildred I am not going to have this confusion. I am sick of hidden agendas and of people who are critical and yet not honest enough to face me directly. If Mildred and I can start on the right foot and be open and honest, perhaps we can model it for the entire congregation.
9. 1 have long wanted my staff to have times of spiritual nurture and growth, but we always seemed too busy at other things. Why not start now? The custodian is here on Tuesday morning. The organist and choir director could come in that hour. Why not have a short devotional and staff meeting? I have waited too long.
10. I really pride myself as being a warm, caring pastor. Yet I probably did not show appreciation of Karen. Now I can start with Mildred. Giving gratitude for work done might help the front office run better. It could also reduce some of the stress I noted in Karen.