I had been in support ministry for 20+ years when I finally realized that I had grown to love what I was doing. What had started out as a good part-time job while raising young children turned out to be my calling. Here are 11 lessons that I have learned along the way:
1. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
On July 17, 1996 when Flight 800 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean killing, among others, a group of students and teachers from the Montoursville High School French Club, I was working as the secretary at a church in….yep, you guessed it, Montoursville, PA. Everyone in our congregation knew someone affected by the tragedy. Sometimes working in a church is like working in an Emergency Room – you never know what the day will bring. Be spiritually prepared so that you have something to give to others.
2. I LEARNED EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW IN A SMALL CHURCH
Like the saying goes about Kindergarten, everything I needed to know in a big church I learned in a small church. The stage and the characters may change but every church has hurting people that need hope. “Peoples is peoples. . .” from The Muppet Movie becomes clearer to me every day.
3. EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING
We are all hurting, broken people living in a fallen world. Everyone has something, some just hide it better than others. You may never know what others are struggling with. Be kind.
4. SUPPORT MINISTRY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE
Support ministry, like life and ministry in general, has ups and downs. For some, riding the rollercoaster of ministry is draining. Creating boundaries is helpful for going the distance rather than burning out in the short term.
5. I DON’T HAVE TO HAVE ALL OF THE ANSWERS
It only takes a minute to say, “I’m not sure, let me look into it and get back to you.” There is usually someone on staff who knows the answer or can point you in the right direction.
6. LEARN FROM OTHERS
At every turn along the journey, God provided me with wise co-workers who usually knew better than I did about life issues. Soak up others’ experiences, ideas, thoughts, and input. I wish I had learned this a little sooner, I might be smarter now.
It is frustrating to read something that is riddled with errors or acronyms that you do not know the meaning of. Always spell out an acronym at least once in an article or paragraph before you start using the abbreviation. If you believe that what you are creating is worth reading, take the time to proofread it and have a co-worker check it.
8. DON’T MAKE A HABIT OF LABELING EMAILS AS IMPORTANT
Your email labeled “Important!” will get a lot more attention if you only ever send one of these when necessary rather than week after week. JUST . . . DON’T. . . DO . . .IT.
9. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY DETAILS
Save everyone time by putting the day, date, time with AM/PM, address, room number, group name, what to bring, etc. in the first event email that you send out. Put the information in the subject line AND the first paragraph of the email. Putting concise details in the subject line helps a busy person scan their emails and immediately know what your email is about. It can also be extremely helpful later when searching through emails for the details. Believe it or not, the subject line does not catch everyone’s attention. Putting the same information in the first paragraph will catch those who do not look at the subject line.
Confidentiality will always be one of the highest requirements for working in a church. You are going to see and hear some difficult things that you cannot discuss. I am grateful for the pastors who trusted me with information and for those who have shielded me from details at times.
11. THE GATEKEEPER
The support person who acts as the pastor’s gatekeeper is like the triage person in the ER. It is important that you know the pastor’s preferences regarding those who want his time and attention. Do your best to prioritize people’s needs and wants but let the ultimate decisions rest with the pastor.
There are lots of support ministry positions (custodian, secretary, food prep person, receptionist, admin, groundskeeper, etc.) but for every one, the goal is the same – use your gifts and talents to enable others to minister more effectively. And really, isn’t that what we are all called to do in one way or another?
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