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Editor tell church secretaries, ‘your job is not for sissies’


GLORIETA, N.M. (BP) –“Life in the church office isn’t what it used to be,” Gayle Hilligoss told more than 800 ministry assistants who gathered at the LifeWay Conference Center at Glorieta, N.M.
Hilligoss, editor of PROfile, a newsletter for church secretaries published in Overland Park, Kan., was one of the key speakers at Ministry Impact 2000, held April 27-May 1, and hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“Our purpose — ministry — remains constant. But our methods are different, our equipment is different, we are different.”
Hilligoss reflected on the role of technology in the transformation of the church office. “Remember when telephones didn’t need to be programmed? When bulletins were typed on blue stencils? When getting a new ‘ball’ for your IBM Selectric was reason to celebrate? When the most high-tech thing in your office was white-out?” Today’s ministry assistants must be able to use high-speed copiers, computers, laser and color printers, fax machines, scanners, voice mail, email, and be able to navigate the Internet.
“Change will happen whether or not we do anything to initiate it,” she noted. “Growth demands our active participation. Change is inevitable; growth is optional. Your work has been transformed because you have grown in professionalism, knowledge, commitment, and excellence.”
Quoting from a survey conducted by her newsletter, PROfile, Hilligoss said one area of growth for the ministry assistant has been in compensation. In 1983, the median hourly wage for a full-time church secretary was about $4.50 and the position seldom offered benefits of any kind. The 1998 median salary was $10.10 and the majority receives a benefits package of some kind.
In the 1998 PROfile survey, more than half of those responding have a different title, but many still hold proudly to the title “church secretary.” One secretary from Ohio noted, “For me, no title describes the work better.” Hilligoss explained “just as the word clergy encompasses those who hold a variety of titles (chaplain, pastor, rabbi, priest) the word secretary is commonly used to respectfully include office professionals regardless of title.”
Hilligoss traced the history of the profession, beginning with biblical models such as Baruch, son of Neriah (found in Jeremiah), and Tertius, who writes a postscript to Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 16). Hilligoss evoked laughter from the crowd when she noted that in those places where Paul wrote, “I write this with my own hand,” scholars find that the Greek is not as correct as in the parts he dictated. “Obviously, when Tertius transcribed, he cleaned up the spelling and grammar and made the boss look good. Some things don’t change!”
Even until late in the 19th century, secretaries were always male. Many educated young men began their business careers as secretaries to wealthy leaders, and moved up from there.
Yet when the YWCA trained eight young women as type writers in 1873, people protested. Surely, they reasoned, this new technology which allowed a trained user to write 57 words per minute would “cause the women’s minds to snap.” It took just 35 years for the gender trend to change completely. Today’s secretaries number some 14 million, with more than 98 percent women.
What will the future look like for those who serve the church office, and who will succeed in that environment? Hilligoss said, “As you prepare for the 21st century, your success will be determined by your ability to continually adapt.” She then described three trends that will have direct implications for the church secretary:
1) A move away from one person wearing many hats to each person a specialist. “The church secretary’s specialty will be administration.”
2) An increasingly complex and diverse society will challenge the ministry assistant to grow in her ability to give and follow instructions, listen, understand and act on information, and constructively manage stress. “Apart from technology, your common sense and caring attitude will be your greatest assets,” she said.
3) As moral values continue to fall away, all who serve the church must do so with a high degree of personal integrity. “In addition to excellent communication tools and skills, we need a message worth communicating, not by how we say it, but by how we live it.”
While noting the valuable role of today’s technology, Hilligoss emphasized, “Of this we can be sure, the most important factor in the church office of the 21st century will not be the technology, it will be the personnel.”
In clarifying the increasing advantage of people over technology, Hilligoss outlined the five major areas of Christian professionalism:
1) Your character — who you are.
2) Your support system — who you know.
3) Your knowledge — what you learn through study and experience.
4) Your performance — what you do.
5) Your commitment — how you persist.
“Anyone who thinks your work is easy has obviously never done it,” she said. “This job is definitely not for sissies.”
Hilligoss closed her seminar with a challenge for the participants to not only accept change, but to grow in the midst of it.
“Not content to merely change, you see life as a continuing opportunity to grow-an occasion to explore, inquire, learn, practice, innovate, and create. As you grow, claim the promise of Proverbs 3:6 ‘In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success.'”
The pastor-staff leadership department at LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, Tenn., sponsored the Ministry Impact 2000 Conference.