Pastorpedia: All Alone in the Prison of the Work of the Pastorate? Maybe You Need an Assistant

cenational.org/pastorpedia

Vol. 3, Issue 2

Produced by CE National

Pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about how they use an assistant to help them with their ministry.When we feel like II Timothy 4:10-11!
That is, all alone in the prison of the work of the pastorate.
Maybe you need an assistant.
Okay, that’s topical preaching at its worst, but our subject this month is about the work of the daily, and how a strong assistant—paid or volunteer—can help. Help a bunch!
One view: in my getting with a lot of pastors in this phase of my life, I see a lot of guys doing their pastoral work, including many weekly details, all by themselves. Some have been burned or disappointed by trying to share administration. Others are not sure how.
The two who write this monthly blog with me have done well in this area, even before their churches grew so heartily. And I remember asking one stipulation of a church of 200 when they called me in 1968: an assistant. There has not been a day since when I did not depend on one.
Anyway, see what you think, and check 4:21 of II Timothy for any action—do it “before winter”!
Typed by myself,
Knute, with Jeff and Jim
Download the PDF version or scroll down to read.
Watch video

What should a staff or volunteer assistant do for you?
Jeff Bogue
They should do many things.

  • They should serve as the gatekeeper. Other staff and leaders should be coming to them, asking them if it’s okay to meet with us or schedule things with us—and they should do everything in their power and in their training to sort through those requests and those needs for us.
  • They should serve as the voice of the office. They should communicate the values and the heartbeat that we have for the people we are serving. So their kindness, their patience, their empathy and sympathy are And when they express that, the people whom we are serving feel as if we have expressed it to them.
  • They should handle every task possible. Whatever you can give to your assistant, you should absolutely do that. (Of course with all the safeguards of not overwhelming them.) If there is a task that someone can do for us, we need to train them and let them do that.
  • They should communicate with our spouses. As much as they are able to help our family function, we should let them do that…communicating schedules, signing the kids up for events, and helping a ministry family work in a healthy way.
  • They should think ahead. They should send us summaries of what’s ahead in the week, have notes and files on our desk so that we can go right into our tasks. As much as possible they should prep the work ahead of time.
  • They should be the keeper of the calendar. They should do the hard work of finding spaces, creating study time and rest time. Ideally we should wake up in the morning and spend our day doing the things our assistant has laid out for us.
  • Finally, they should be the no person. When someone asks you to do a wedding or funeral or to be involved in an event and you can’t, because of the pacing of your schedule—in other words, the time slot may be free, but you haven’t seen your family in a week!—let your assistant make the phone call; let them simply say that you are unavailable. That keeps you from the awkward conversation of feeling like you have to justify why you don’t want to do something or why you need to be someplace for a personal matter.

Jim Brown

  • Be the first line of defense. They can filter what needs to get to you and what doesn’t.
  • Handle the details of administration that often can bury you—phone calls, schedules, answers to questions, etc.
  • They become the first to answer questions and point people in the right direction, so they must be familiar with values, vision, and philosophy of your church.
  • Lighten the load of the team and offer abilities that you don’t have so that the overall team is stronger.
  • Be willing to say no and know when! Not be a people pleaser!
  • Help to keep the major priority hot and not let you get buried with people or situations that thwart forward movement.
  • They must be someone you trust to answer and follow-through like you would.

Knute Larson

  • More than you think, if you do not use one now. J
  • Anything he or she can do as well as you, and that you do not have to be the one to do. Pastors most major on scripture, prayer, vision, and shepherding people with love. Assistants—called by many other names also—do many things that help us major on the above.

To be more specific: my schedule, details, arrangements for meetings and travel and words and coffee, records, reminders, and areas of staff ministry where you ask them to be “point person,” the one to give vision and excellence to that area.

  • Give perspective. An assistant often is a woman, and women often give great perspective that a man may miss. They should be in on meetings not just to take notes!
  • A good assistant is not a full-time counselor or pastoral care person, but she or he can set a mood of love and grace and listening and caring, while still knowing when to excuse herself and get to assisting in other ways.
  • In many cases, be the church mother—and please do not read anything negative into that. Mothers are wonderful, and often both church staffs and lead volunteers need someone to help them with the church mood, team spirit, deadlines, and being positive.

Why is it sometimes hard to use or include them as varsity?
Jeff Bogue

  1. Often you don’t want to surrender control to them, so you will give them menial tasks instead of actually thinking of them as a teammate to help you succeed. This is where you should not be treating your assistant as simply a secretary, but as someone who can actually make decisions and move the ball forward.
  1. If you do not trust your assistant, there are two things you might look at:
    1. Look at yourself and ask: Is there something about me that’s not letting them do what they need to do? Do I need to be more trusting?
    2. Secondly, Do I have the right assistant? If you cannot trust them to speak on your behalf and to make certain levels of decisions on your behalf, then you either have the wrong person or you have not trained with them adequately.

Jim Brown

  • That should never happen. Every teammate is just as important as you are.
  • Perception from others often leads to this reality. Most people see you as the only decision maker and they only want to talk to the Pastor.
  • Using words like team helps to eliminate this assumption. Plus freeing them up to make decisions that don’t necessarily need your input.
  • We need to elevate them in public and find ways to follow their lead so that people see that you trust them. Your best leaders are good followers too.

Knute Larson

  • Chauvinism, at times. I have been there also.
  • Lack of experience. If we have not had a good assisting person on the team, we may not know how to use them or benefit from them.

CE has a four-page paper on “How to Use an Assistant….” I wrote it about what my assistant did for me, and pastors and assistants in any size staff could embrace some of the specifics. (Find it at www.cenational.org/assistant)

  • Because church boards sometimes will not allow the pastor to hire them. And this might be a decision made by board people who have never had an assistant on their team, and find it hard to see the church ministry from a big picture perspective.
  • Because we are in a hurry, majoring on the urgent and not looking at the important, or hearing experienced pastors’ talk about this ministry.

What size church or staff should have office and administrative assistance?
Jeff Bogue
Every pastor at every size should have this person; this should actually be your first hire. They are absolutely critical to your being successful and to your being in a position where you can focus on that which is unique to your life and ministry.
Jim Brown

  • As soon as possible, whether volunteer or paid. You never realize how important it really is until you have a good assistant in place.
  • One person can go faster, but two people can go further.
  • There are a few things to show that you might need an assistant: you dread answering the phone, you begin to hide from people, you begin to get angry, you feel overwhelmed, you are not able to be ready to deliver your message in a passionate way, the thought of going into the office brings anxiety, you are weeks behind on emails and phone calls, the thought of quitting is more than just Monday morning, you have lost your creativity, your prayer life is waning, adding one more thing to your schedule buries you emotionally, and you feel like no one works harder than you.

On a personal note: I have worked better at managing my own schedule and let my pastoral assistants or office assistants check with me first to see if I am available. My gifting is high in administration and this is something I enjoy. But all phone calls are screened for me. I also think it is healthy to have another pastor follow-through on my behalf so that people see him as important as I am. And my wife and kids have free access to my office at any time. I work hard to greet as many people as possible in public places and our hallways. Lastly, we must never make people think we aren’t accessible so we work hard to take time to address them, love on them, and talk to them as you go along the way!
Knute Larson

  • Any size can use at least part-time or volunteer assistants.

And—let’s admit this right away—volunteers are harder to correct or “fire” or change, because of church politics and personal feelings. But in many smaller churches the pastor neglects real shepherding or leadership or even Bible work and prayer because he is his own assistant.

  • Related at least: a great experience for a young pastoral student is an internship that includes administrative assistance for the pastor. Also, a retired woman or man—someone who once used her or his own assistant perhaps—can be an excellent team player who majors on assisting and details.

Often those retired people respond to flexible hours, and ten weeks off for Florida or grandchildren, and will work for a monthly stipend if they know what they are supposed to do and have a title and an office and true input for the good of the church.

  • Related at least: Marlene Wilson, in an excellent book on volunteerism in the church, wrote that volunteers quit for two main reasons: they were not thanked, and they did not know exactly what they were supposed to do.

So we write thank you notes and succinct job descriptions!
Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.Pastorpedia Logo

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