I write this to all of the congregations. All of you. Everywhere.
I know this: God has called me to serve vocationally in the local church. Definitely in the areas of communications, first impressions, next steps, and assimilation.
I also know I’m looking for every reason not to.
The sad part is that I don’t have to look too hard. This is a post from a group I’m in (I’ve left out a few details on purpose):
“Does anyone else notice that as we preach mental health as a Church, ours isn’t the best example? I was told on Thursday to (insert project + short timeline). Five hours of work later – on a Saturday – it’s finally done. Is it just my church??”
I have a friend who recently left the ministry. She’s posting a lot of pictures showing the activities she’s enjoying with her family. Many of the posts contain the phrase, “for the first time in a long time, I’m able to…”
Think about that. For the first time in a long time, she’s able to enjoy activities with her family.
Just last night, I received this message from a friend “…after having worked in… a daycare, in restaurants w high functioning alcoholics and/or drug users, a government job, and in a regional insurance office that included several dozen insurance salesmen, I’d never been in such a dysfunctional work environment until now.”
(She’s referring to her job at a church)
My own personal experience? I’ve missed family celebrations, flown home early from a family vacation, and even taken my laptop to and worked at the ER – when I was the patient.
I’ve loaded my personal cell phone (that the church didn’t pay for) with apps and images that were only for the church.
And I justified every second:
It’s my family’s church home, not just my job – I want to see things succeed (done, done well, etc.)
I’m earning a paycheck
Jesus never promised easy, He promised it would be worth it
I’m not hanging on a cross
I justified it because I knew it’s what God was calling me to do.
And then I ran. For many reasons. And in some way, I’m still running.
But I know I’ll go back.
Because despite the soul-crushing sacrifice, there’s another common bond among church employees: we love our congregations. Your Pastor loves you (I hope). The church secretary loves you. The maintenance guy loves you. The financial secretary loves you. Even the website and graphic design person loves you.
We know it’s a sacrifice. We know it’s a calling. And each and every church employee I know wants desperately to see people connected to the body of Christ.
And almost every congregant I know will say at some point to a church employee, “you work so hard, you need a break (day off, vacation, etc.)”
You’re right. We do.
So…what’s the point?
Here it is:
If you’re sitting in church, not DOING anything, please step up.
Assume this: every time you pick up the phone and need to talk to your Pastor, every other person in the church also called him. If you attend a church of 200, that’s 200 phone calls. And there are still day-to-day operations.
I used to spend 8 hours a day at the office, then come home to work. For real.
Please – volunteer to do something. What’s the thing you do best? What are you most passionate about? There’s probably a staff leader at your church who needs you on their team.
If you’re not sure where to start, I use a Venn diagram, Make three circles, making sure they intersect. Label each: Ability, Affinity, Affirmation. Ability should be the things you are naturally able to do. Affinity are the things you love. Affirmation are the things that other people have told you that you do well. For example: I’ve been told that I’m good with kids (affirmation). I don’t necessarily like working with kids (that would NOT go under affinity). I think that I’m able to work with kids – if there’s enough coffee. So that could potentially go in 2 of the 3. When you find the thing that hits all 3, that’s your spot.
If you know a church staff member is on vacation or it’s a day off – respect that time. I guarantee you, each and every employee will go above and beyond the call of duty, but even Jesus rested.
Resist the temptation to call, text, email, etc. (Yes, we check our emails on our days off.)
For me, my own first step back to obedience is volunteering.
And I’m grateful every day that I get to practice what I preach.
Our county schools have canceled in-person instruction (all remote learning today) because they are concerned about their teachers and students being able to get to school.
From their statement:
“Due to the impact of the gas shortage on staffing availability and student transportation,“
(North Carolina is currently experiencing gas shortages.)
Yet, many churches did not cancel in- person services on Wednesday night.
Now… look at this through the lens of an unsaved/unchurched person.
Unsaved people typically reach a place of need, a place where they feel empty, or alone. It can be minor or major, but it’s there – the hole in their hearts where Jesus should be.
We, church people, scream from the rooftops, “you need Jesus!” It’s true. They do.
Now let’s jump back to current events.
There are people anxious, maybe scared.
Heck, if I didn’t have Jesus + church people in my life I would be anxious and scared. I’m calculating the number of trips I have to take over the next few days and seeing closed gas pumps… and so there are granola bars, bottled water, blankets, and blood pressure meds in my car. Don’t think I’m kidding.
So we’ve got nervous, anxious, and scared unchurched people.
And our county school system canceled in-person instruction because they are concerned for their staff and parents of students.
Churches had the chance to lead the way on this on Wednesday night. They didn’t.
24 hours later, our county school system showed more care & concern for people than churches.
Think about what that communicates to the non-Christian. (We’re still looking through that lens.)
They’ve just been told the government cares about them more than a church does.
Why would they ever need or want a church? Why would they ever need or want a church family? Why would they ever need or want a relationship with Jesus?
This is the real battle we’re fighting, Christians, and if we don’t jump out ahead of it, we’re going to lose.
A Pastor once told me there’s truth and there’s grace, but if you’re going to make an error in judgement, err on the side of grace. So I do. I almost always choose Grace. Because of that I’ve been called gullible, and a pushover. I’ve been told that I allow people to use and take advantage of me.
And maybe that’s true. But I’d rather stand before God and account for being helpful and kind than stand before him and answer for the times I selfishly didn’t help someone.
And just because you offer help doesn’t mean you condone actions.
Think of it this way. If someone is playing with fire, you might say, “don’t do that, you’ll get burned.” They continue to play…they get burned.
Quick…what’s the first thing you do?
Treat the burn. Get them out of danger. Show compassion. Care. Love.
Then have a, ‘what we’re you thinking!?’ moment.
I’ve seen way too many leaders fail – moral failures, mental illness, etc. I’ve seen way too many Pastors need to step down. I’ve seen Pastors take their own lives.
As easy as it is to get angry at their failures — and believe me it’s easy, we have to be compassionate.
When the unthinkable happens, we have to remember our Pastors and leaders are people, too.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit, I feel guilty. Guilt usually leads to remorse and repentance, but that guilt valley is a deep – and lonely – one.
In my deepest valleys, I’m most grateful for the friends who stick by me.
So… here’s a challenge and a few tips from someone who’s walked in a few valleys herself.
Challenge: Do you want to be known for being compassionate, forgiving, and trustworthy?
So…Here’s what I needed (and what I believe anyone going through a valley needs):
1. A safe place to worship. I found myself at one point without a church home. I was so grateful for a friend who took me to church (a few towns over from mine).
2. Meals and money. So many times, a step down from ministry means a loss of income and it might often mean a relocation. Organize meals, do what you can to provide financial assistance.
3. Prayer. When a believer has done something wrong, they know. Falls can be public…and hard. Let someone know you’re praying.
4. Someone to believe in you. Let’s face it, our leaders got to be where they are (or were) because God gifted them. A failure doesn’t remove the gift. I’ve seen leaders fail, and make a comeback. Having been there, I’m eternally grateful for the people who believed in me.
5. Chocolate chip cookies. Because who doesn’t sometimes just need a cookie?
If you go this grace route, don’t fault the “truthers.” They want justice. They’re not wrong, they’ve just chosen another stance.
I’m looking at the perspective of this picture. Someone has climbed – presumably a long way up. It may be hot, it may be dry. To find relief from those conditions, the option is to jump. Jump into cool, refreshing water.
Would you do it? People do all the time. I’ve watched cliff divers when I’ve been on vacation. I don’t know if I could do it. What’s below the surface? Jagged rocks? Nope. I’m not that brave.
But a few weeks ago, I did it.
And the next day I was filled with fear. Terror. Gut-wrenching pain.
I cried. I sobbed.I couldn’t breathe.I couldn’t form words.
Had a made the biggest mistake of my life?
God said, “I got this.”
And He did.
I used to stress over composing weekly emails to over 1,000 people.
Now I’m copying and pasting HTML code for emails that reach over 7,000.
I ran social media pages that reached into the low thousands, with connected groups made up of hundreds of people.
I open my social media feeds now and see over 20,000 people in a group and many thousands following our page.
I used to get excited over social media notifications. Now I’ve turned them off. There are so many, I can’t do my job.
My written or simple Google Doc to-do list has become a collaborative task list in Asana, where I’m learning how to do a kanban board. (Can I edit an existing project or tasks and move them to a board or do I need to start over? Help!)
I dreamed of ways to impact a small geographical area. Now I realize I’m impacting the world.
I wished for a window office. Yesterday I spent all day working outside.
God instructs us to stay faithful in the small things and He will bless that. He keeps His promises.
I remind myself to stay humble. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. Getting people to a relationship with Him is the most important thing I will ever do. Ever.
It’s taken sacrifice. I’ve given up comfort and security and I’ve invested both my own time and money.
People have graciously allowed margin for error. I’ve surrounded myself with people who give grace and forgiveness, and who believe in me. When I fail, I’m going to fail fast, fail up, and fail cheap.
I’ve owned my mistakes. I’ve apologized. I won’t make the same mistake twice.
I’m staying connected to my local church and will serve her in whichever way best serves the leadership. She’s the bride of Christ. I need these people in my life.
I’ve learned this: every time God calls us TO something, He also calls us to leave something. It happens every day. You leave your house to go to work. You leave work to go home. You leave. You go.
I promised you new content each week, and I’m already a day behind! But I have good reasons. You’ll see…
I didn’t spend a lot of time at my computer this week when I wasn’t working.
I logged 50+ hours this week (51). That’s a combination of hours at the office, some projects I chose to work on at home, and a few things I did in a volunteer capacity that are not actual functions of my job.
Keep that number in mind when I tell you what else I’ve accomplished.
Dinner with a friend.
Live online meeting with some friends.
Afternoon lunch with a friend.
Watched World Series games 6 and 7.
Went out to dinner with my husband twice (that’s two date nights, y’all!).
Saw a movie with my husband.
Got my teeth cleaned.
Got the oil changed in my car.
Did four loads of laundry in one day.
Finalized a project for another ministry.
I also feel well-rested and ready for the new week!
Because in addition to all of that, I made time EVERY MORNING for my devotional.
I call it giving God the “first ten.” We give him the first ten percent of our income (tithe). Shouldn’t we also give him the first ten minutes of our day?
This week, try giving God the first ten minutes of your day. Read and study His word.
I’m resurrecting the blog! Why? Because I genuinely like writing. I’m not necessarily super good at it. I change tenses, will occasionally have a typo, and write conversationally, rather than formally.
But a podcast reminded me to quit listening to “the jerk.”
“The jerk” is the voice in my head saying, “don’t do it.”
Will I only get one – or maybe a handful of readers? Probably yes.
Is it all stuff you could read somewhere else or that you’ve heard before? Also, probably yes.
But it’s my blog. I like writing, and so I am.
When we left off, I had written about what burnout might look like. It doesn’t always look like a moral failure or something earth-shatteringly dramatic. Sometimes it looks normal until…BAM!
Didn’t see that coming!
I saw some warning signs with my son this summer and then one night…BAM!
He collapsed due to fatigue and dehydration, passed out for 5-8 minutes and we were on our way to the ER.
He’s fine now, and we were able to squeeze in a few fun things (would you like to go to the hospital via ambulance or via ferry boat on a sunny day?)
Within 24-hours of him collapsing and being taken to the ER, he was back on stage.
So today, I’m not going to give you all of the warning signs of burnout. When I tell you “how” to recognize it, the first thing I’ll do is tell you to surround yourself with people who will speak truth into your life.
My youngest son sometimes says, “Mom, put down your phone and talk to your family.” So, I do.
My youngest daughter sits in the front seat next to me in the car and when I’m tempted to check my phone at while at a red light, she stops me.
I’ve ceded control of my phone while in the car to whoever is riding with me.
Those may seem like small, minor things. But to our family, they make a big difference.
We’ve been operating in this mode for a few months – I’ve seen a difference.
Let me stop here and say that I have read – and I believe – that balance is a myth. I’m either growing or dying. Healthy things grow. Inactivity is stagnation. Stagnant things are dying.
However, I do believe in sabbath rest.
So, here are the ways I get there – and I’m able to do it on my busiest days when my “to-do” list seems endless:
Surround yourself with the right people. I’ve already told you about my two youngest children. They are rock stars. My husband is awesome and so are my two oldest children. They tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.
Set some hardline boundaries. I have about a 36 hour window each week that I absolutely will not work (at my primary job).
Limit the side hustles for a season. If you’re truly on the brink of burnout, limit the side hustles. Focus only on your primary job for awhile. Another tactic: don’t accept any side hustles without first talking to your boss about how it may impact your work. If you’re not rested or your family is suffering, your work suffers. So if your side hustles mean you’re not truly resting and investing in your family, they’ll eventually impact your work. Limit them if needed.
Look at hours, not days. If the thought of an entire day off seems like too much, take hours at a time.
Compartmentalize your duties. There are aspects of my job that I don’t love. It’s why it’s called, ‘work’ and it’s why they pay me. I do those things during office hours only. There are other aspects of my job that I love. They are genuinely fun. Sometimes more fun than whatever sport my fantastic family is watching on t.v.. I’ll do those things at home. For fun.
Add rest to your “to-do” list. Just yesterday, I added ‘read a book,’ and ‘take a nap’ to my to-do list.
Use YouVersion. I’m in a YouVersion devotional with a few friends. Do this regularly to make sure you stay in God’s word.
Make friends outside of church. Some of my best friends do not attend our church. Some of them work for other churches, some have other careers.
Is it your church or your job? Before I started working at our church, I told my boss that my family had to be “all in.” We visited and they loved it from the start. My husband said, “THAT was a breath of fresh air.” My kids loved it, too. I know that even if I didn’t work there, our family would attend there and I’d likely serve the church by doing exactly what I’m doing now. If it’s only a job to you, I’ll be blunt: consider looking for another job.
Remember the words of Romans 8:28. God works all things for good. Not some things. All things. Even crazy schedules and long to-do lists.
If you’re anything like me, the to-do list can grow out of control sometimes. It’s a challenge to keep it under control. But I also know God has called me to this crazy thing called “ministry” and I cannot imagine doing anything other than what I do.
It’s a weird cycle. I’m not defined by what I do – I know that first and foremost I’m a child of God. Don’t miss that. But I also know how God has designed me and wired me. I know my purpose.
I also know I’m in it for the long-haul, not the short-term so I have to find ways and times to rest, invest in my own relationship with God, and stay healthy, without falling into laziness or making excuses for things not getting done.
Hopefully this has helped you – even a little bit – if you’re struggling with boundaries or burn-out, send me a message. I’d love to talk to you.
For now, I’m preparing for next week and beyond.
New content coming each week: process, progress, assimilation, sustainability, forms, church management software, family, and whatever else comes to mind.
One of my favorite things to do is get away in a coffee shop, find a corner table, order a strong, dark roast, and create. I pull up stock photo sites, I browse my fonts, I listen (and re-listen) to our Lead Pastor’s sermon, I look at our upcoming events calendar, I people watch, and I create.
Some people use services that provide social media content.
I use services that provide social media content.
I don’t like using services that provide social media content.
I like dreaming. I like creating. I like pushing boundaries. What do I do in my spare time? I study systems and processes, I play with demo versions of church management software (yes, really), and I create.
Is that what I do for fun? Yes.
Legit? Fun? Yes.
Recently I spent some time with my son at his summer job. He plays guitar at youth camp. At the beach. He’s 20 years old and he gets paid to live at the beach and play guitar 2-3 times a day.
Plus he gets some spending money for groceries.
I need a new job!
While I was with him, he seemed tired. He wakes up 15 minutes before he needs to be ready for the day. He naps whenever possible. On Friday morning, his roommate said they were getting ready to leave their room and they looked at each other and said, “I can’t.“
They did. They did with excellence.
God got them through.
But it struck me…
Even when you’re getting paid for what you’d likely do on a volunteer basis…
You can still experience burnout.
Burnout doesn’t always look like stepping down. Burnout doesn’t always look like a moral failure.
Burnout sometimes looks like getting paid to live at the beach and play your guitar… or sitting in your favorite coffee shop…creating.
Up next: how to recognize burnout and what to do when you’re there.
A few months ago I had a chance to record a video for the That Church Summit. I prepared my content and knew exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.
Unfortunately, the day came to record the video and I had a cold. A runny nose, scratchy throat, eyes watering cold. It also happened to be a cold day. A really cold day. And we were filming in a room that had the heat turned down. Something about bright lights, camera and recording equipment, and proper temperatures. Evidently recording equipment and heat aren’t necessarily friends.
If you happened to catch my video – I apologize. I’m much better at writing than I am at video delivery.
With that being said, I thought I’d give you the written version of my one and only That CC appearance.
My topic was The Administrative Role and Communications.
Some people are surprised to know that I’m our Lead Pastor’s Executive Assistant. Some of my counterparts at other churches have expressed surprise that I’m not the Communications Director. One person said he thought I was full-time in communications.
As the Executive Assistant, I get to play a strong role in helping our Pastor with our web site, social media, graphic design, and database management.
You may have a similar official title: administrative assistant, ministry assistant, or church secretary. And you may also have been handed the responsibility of maintaining the web site, handling social media, or graphic design.
Here’s a few things that have helped me in my position and I hope they will help you as well.
The first thing to remember is that everything communicates. Whether it’s creating a web site landing page, a postcard to promote an event, or the weekly bulletin, it’s form of communication in your church. You are communicating something to someone. Even answering your church phone is a form of church communication.
DON’T DO IT ALONE
Don’t try to be an expert at everything at first – or ever. One of my favorite venn diagrams is made of three circles. The circles are labeled: affinity, ability, and affirmation. Where those three meet is your sweet spot. For example: I’ve been told that I’m good with kids (affirmation). I know I have the ability to care for children (all four of mine are still living). I don’t particularly love serving in children’s ministry (no affinity).
When it comes to communications, I love (affinity) working with the database and creating social media content. I’ve been told I’m good at both (affirmation), and I have the skill to do what I need to do (ability). Our Lead Pastor is smart (totally hope he’s reading right now…) and allows me time to stay focused in these areas.
I’m blessed to have some very high capacity volunteers that serve our church in areas of web content and development, Sunday morning production, and photography.
As you venture into communication, you’re likely to have a lot of questions (I took classes for what I do and I still found myself using Google to look up “pixels to inches converter.” You might even be searching: “what are pixels.” Know this: that is okay. There is no such thing as a bad question. Ever.
Look at what other churches in your area are doing. Reach out to their administrative and communications departments and schedule a time to pick their brains over coffee.
Find a design you like and challenge yourself to copy it.
INVEST IN YOURSELF
You may need to set aside time for training and – let’s be real – this training may need to be on your own time and your own dime.
Give up the Starbucks. Take a few classes online or at a local community college, pay to join a premium Facebook group.
If your church has it in the budget, that’s fantastic. If not, you may need to make an investment.
You’re learning a new skill – you are worth it!
WHAT ARE YOU COMMUNICATING?
Remember that everything communicates rule?
What and how you communicate is very important.
Watch your first impressions team (Your guests are probably watching you online before coming for a first visit. Make sure you’re giving an accurate representation of who you are).
Be engaging with your community. Your online presence is more than event promotion. We partnered with a local coffee shop to give teachers free coffee on the first day of school. We frequently do give-aways for $10 gift cards for coffee or pizza.
Show people who you are; not just what you do. Give glimpses into the personal lives of staff members and volunteers.
Sometimes non-professional videos are better than professional videos. We’ve gotten some of our highest engagement when I’ve taken rough cell phone video of things happening in the office.
Develop a brand/style guide. Giving volunteers clear parameters of what’s expected when it comes to brand and style will help avoid any confusion.
Use a communications form for events and announcements. A form is a good way for ministry leaders to put all of their thoughts in one place. You can make sure submitted forms are available to your team. It saves the ministry leaders’ and your valuable time. Fifteen minutes to fill out a form takes less time than fifteen back-and-forth emails, sometimes over the course of fifteen days.
Use your administrative tools to provide data and metrics. Ministry leaders love their ministry. Your children’s leaders love children’s events and think they are the most important things happening in the life of the church. Your men’s ministry leaders love men’s ministry events and think they are the most important things happening in the life of the church. Your women’s ministry leaders? Yes, them too! It’s what makes them good at and suited for what they do! With your administrative tools, you are in a unique position to provide the data that will help them best reach their target audience.
MAKE IT EASY
Structure everything you do from the outside in. Children’s check-in on Sunday morning should be easy. All event registrations should be viewed through the lens of someone who has never been to a church. Sure, it may take some extra work on your part, but it’s worth it when you begin to see those connections. Make sure your web site is clear and easy to navigate. Ask your counterparts at other churches to audit it for you every once in a while and be open to their suggestions.
THE MAIN EVENT
While all ministries and events are important, the most important thing you will do is set up your Lead Pastor for success. People may connect through another ministry or event, but all avenues lead to your main service – the auditorium or sanctuary – ‘the big room.’ Everything you do has to reflect your Pastor’s communication style.
If your Lead Pastor wears a three-piece suit, preaches from the King James Version, and your church is liturgical, your online presence should reflect that.
If your Lead Pastor is a little more relaxed, casual in his delivery, and inserts jokes into his sermons, your online presence should reflect that.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating: people are watching you online – your web site and social media channels – before visiting. Make sure your online communications accurately reflect what they will see and hear at your church.
SET UP EVERYONE ELSE FOR SUCCESS
In your administrative role, you are always setting up other people for success. This means that as your church grows, you may continue to fill an administrative role, while someone else steps into a more prominent communications role – or you may move into a more prominent communications role while someone else fills your current administrative role.
I want to stop here and ask you to read two verses:
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. – Hebrews 13:7 (CSB)
Obey your leaders[a] and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. – Hebrews 13:17 (CSB)
Our only call is to observe our spiritual leaders, imitate their faith, and obey them. Your Lead Pastor and your senior leadership team have a great weight on their shoulders as they lead the church. In an administrative role – even in some communications roles – you may not have the same authority of decision-making that falls on their shoulders. Your only call is to obey their instruction.
As you continue to balance your roles, make it easier for others to help you by:
Centralizing file access by using Google Drive or Dropbox.
Sharing passwords to stock photo or digital asset sites.
Saving documents as .pdf’s for easy printing (not everyone has access to or is familiar with Adobe software).
You are not just setting up the next person for success, you are setting up the next generation for success. Because you get to play a small part in building the Church (notice the capital ‘C’) for generations to come.
You are not just communicating to connect people to your church, you are communicating to connect people to a relationship with Jesus.
As we’ve established, I love helping people take their next steps. Just yesterday – even after oral surgery – I was able to help someone find a small group and an area of service. It was energizing – even during the time of day that the oral surgeon told me I’d be tired!
But even with that being said, my comfort zone still falls squarely behind a computer screen. When dealing with people, I prefer email or text.
Gratefully, our Lead Pastor sometimes understands how my brain is wired and has allowed me to serve in a capacity that helps people take their next steps. At our church, we call it the “What’s Next” desk. It’s in a perfect place – out of the way, not obstructing traffic flow, and in a place where guests can stop by just before leaving the building.
For some special events, we might ask guests to stop by What’s Next and find out about our church.
For our last major event, we relocated the What’s Next desk to another part of the lobby (it’s on wheels). It was still off to the side – visible, but not obnoxiously in the way.
For Christmas Eve, we’ve had a donation of some cool coffee mugs, filled with candy and other treats. We’ll ask people to stop by What’s Next, sign our digital guestbook, and then we’ll draw names for some give-aways.
This is where it gets interesting.
I asked our Director of Worship Ministries where he’d like the What’s Next desk on Christmas Eve? His answer: Centrally located in the lobby.
Also, could you position it so that people can’t get behind it?
I’m pretty sure he hasn’t thought that through.
Or has he?
Because if people can’t get behind it…
and I’m a person…
then logic tells me that I cannot be behind it.
I came home and whined to my kids.
“People are trying to convince me that I’m a people person.”
I should also remind them that I pay their car insurance and their cell phone bills.
Would that make me a people person?
I do love helping people take their next steps.
As I pray, God is revealing that He’s using some special people (there’s that word again!) to help me take mine.