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July 27, 2010

Where You Work Best

The pros and cons to working and worshiping at the same church.


Can church employees work at one church and worship at another? Off the Agenda recently explored this question on our sister site, BuildingChurchLeaders.com with mixed feelings. Blogger Tim Avery asked these follow-up questions in response:

• If the church can't meet all of your spiritual and relational needs, do you expect it to meet the needs of others?
• Does your role impede your ability to relate to the community because you are placing too much weight on your responsibilities?
• Can you really fulfill your role well without being fully involved in that community?
• Is your perception of the church as employer something that needs to be fixed or fled from?

While Avery ultimately objects to the idea of having two church homes—one for work, one for growing—there are some church administrative assistants who would advocate for this situation.

A few of our readers find it very difficult to work as an administrative assistant and worship at the same church. Here are their concerns:

“Sometimes I miss out on fellowship because I am running around helping.”

“It’s difficult to worship uninterrupted at church.”

“At first I didn’t find it hard to attend worship on Sundays, but as time went by people started seeing me as ‘the secretary’ anywhere they saw me. As it became a problem, my pastor talked to the Deacons, Elders, and other church leaders to get their support. I am learning to just ask them to call me in the office on Monday, e-mail me, or leave a voice mail. It continues to be a challenge at times to balance my work life with worship.”

While many have legitimate concerns about working at their home church, others feel they are able to minister more effectively because of the position they hold in their church office. Church administrators that belong to the church where they serve often have a better gauge on leadership and congregational issues facing their church, as well as a deeper investment in supporting the church’s ministry efforts.

No matter how you’re divided on this issue, unique problems exist for both groups of church administrators. Dr. James Cobble, the former editor of Church Office Today newsletter, offers the following tips to reduce potential problems with respect to your membership and employment status.

If you worship where you work:
One of the greatest problems for administrative assistants who work at their own church is “role confusion”—knowing when you are at work and when you are not. Your tendency is to initially take on every job and responsibility regardless of time or location, but this quickly leads to burnout and even bitterness toward your church and its members. To prevent this from happening, develop strategies to create boundaries in your work. Use the following seven strategies as a launching point:

1. Clarify your responsibilities. Make sure you and your boss understand your job description.

2. Understand who can assign you work.

3. Learn to say “no” without feeling guilty. You are not expected to do everything for everybody.

4. Educate your congregation to communicate work concerns during your regular office hours or through written notes, or an e-mail rather than contacting you at home, or during worship.

5. Recognize that your pastors are human and may make mistakes.

6. Maintain strict confidentiality on matters involving congregational members.

7. Since it can be difficult to seek counseling on personally sensitive issues from a pastor who may also be your boss, build other nurturing relationships that are available if the need arises.

If you do not worship where you work:
Two common problems that exist for those of you who are not members of the church where you work are staying informed on issues and concerns that arise during church services or events, and getting to know the people and culture of the church. Here are five tips to help you feel more in-the-loop at your workplace:

1. Develop an informational network. Be active in collecting information and getting to know those in charge of ministries.

2. Make visual connections with callers. If the church has a pictorial directory, use it every time a member calls whom you do not know.

3. Read whatever is available concerning the history of the church.

4. Attend some social functions at the church to deepen personal relationships.

5. Maintain neutrality if divisions arise, and stay focused on your service to the entire church.

Where do you stand on this topic? Do you feel it’s better to worship where you work, or can it be beneficial for church administrators to have a second church where they feel free to worship uninterrupted?

To stay connected to issues related to the church office, be sure to sign up for the free, twice-monthly Church Office Today e-newsletter.

Lindsey Learn is assistant editor of the Church Management team at Christianity Today International.

Related Tags: administrative assistant, administrator, office, secretary


Just reading your article, breathes a sigh of relief. To know that, "It's not just me", who experiences these challenges, is a God send. Yet, I still have one up, as I am a triple threat; 1. Church Administrator at the 2. Same church where I worship and am 3. The Pastor...and Co-Pastor's daughter; did I mention that my brother is the Executive Pastor?? So, needless to say, it is quite an undertaking. Peace and Blessings.

I work where I worship--and love it! I do find it helpful to know the culture of the church, rhythm of services/schedules, and a good number of the people that we serve. I learned the hard way (in another church position),that boundaries were necessary and now have leadership that helps me maintain those boundaries and respects me both as a church member and co-worker.

I don't take my office keys with me to weekend worship, if I am asked something in passing to or from services, I reply, "I will certainly help you with that on Monday" or "Give me a call/send me an email this week". Sometimes it still gets fuzzy in areas that I might serve in as a regular church member but may intersect with work responsibilities.

I work where I worship and agree that it can be challenging. I have found some ways to set boundaries and have grown more comfortable sticking with them without fearing I'm hurting a friendship. I'll share 2:

I spent about $8 of my own money to get some cards made at Vistaprint. Separate from my business card, these are for our internal lay leaders and give my office contact info & hours with a big space that says, "REMINDER... I need to contact Elizabeth about:" I carry some in my pocket or purse on Sundays and it's been one of the easiest ways to gently put the responsibility back on others to remind themselves to contact me rather than me scrambling to write down on the bulletin a note to myself that I'll hopefully remember to take to work with me Monday.

Secondly, the best idea ever that I learned from another church administrator... for those who continually step over your boundary and use the excuse, "I only think of the things I need when I see you on Sunday," you can smile and respond, "How about you bring me some coffee or a smoothie tomorrow at work and when you see me you'll remember!" ;) I've been able to get a laugh, a smoothie, AND a boundary firmed up all at once.

I fall into the category of "work at one church and worship at another" and I very much enjoy this dynamic. I greatly appreciate being able to truly "leave work at work" and not be hounded by members of the congregation in between worship services and at special events. My family and I have visited the church where I work a few times, and I always end up "playing secretary." The church where I work and the church where my family and I are members are even different denominations, which I feel makes for a very enriching experience. The pastor who is my boss does a good job at trying to keep me "in the loop" with what happens on Sunday mornings, and is open to my suggestions of things to try that have worked at my home church. At my home church, we have had the tradition for many years of hiring office staff from within the congregation. While there are obvious benefits to this arrangement, it has also caused friction and hurt feelings over unrealistic expectations that were placed on the staff by the congregation. We now have someone from another church running the office, and it has worked out beautifully. I know some staff enjoy working and worshipping at the same church, and perhaps the research suggests that this is a good idea, but I MUCH prefer my current situation!

I work for four different congregations. I have worshipped where I work and find that God usually gets robbed in those instances. For me, robbing God of the undivided attention He is worthy of is not the best thing for my relationship with Him.
Once a week, most congregations come together to corporately worship the Living God, Jesus Christ; He is worthy of all praise and adoration. When I have worshipped where I work, I am distracted too much for that to be reality AND the politics of the leadership hinder my volunteering.
There are indeed, some benefits to 'knowing' the members like members tend to; but the most important thing for me has been focusing on God in worship, not being asked about or told about a 'job' situation.

I have a "Drop Box" that people can put information in and I tell them to use it. I have even told people that I will take care of it on Monday. I have also recently implemented on not attending any earlier than 15 minutes prior to the service so that I can spend that time in prayer. Prior to my becoming office manager I was able to pray without interruption, but now that I have the position I am constantly being interrupted and expected by pastoral staff to serve no matter if I am on the clock or not. I have chosen to guard my time in prayer which is my ministry to the church even before I am the office manager. It is very important to have this area of my life guarded as if I don't no one will guard it for me.

I work as Office Manager and worship at the same church, which my husband sometimes finds frustrating. I have learned that there are certain times when I know I will need to be "on the job" during the worship time, but this is for special services, special events. During normal Sundays I try to get there just before the service starts so all I have to do is sit down and we try to leave as soon as its over.

I also have learned to set boundaries - if someone asks me for something that is needed to be done at the moment for the service to happen smoothly then I do it, but if it is not related to getting though the service, then I tell them I am not on the clock, suggest they leave a note in my mailbox or contact me on Monday.

Wow! How timely this article was. I have been employed where I worship for 5 1/2 years and recently my husband has been called to begin a new work as a bi-vocational worship leader in a neighboring city. The church is going through a lot of turmoil, no pastor and everyone wanted to be the leader. So this has come at a good time, sort of. We just started attending another church and I was trying to figure out how I was going to work at one church and worship at another. God is awesome with His timing, thank you for the excellent article!

I've seen this debate over and over between secretaries. Sometimes I wander if the difference is that for some the duties are a "JOB" and for some they are a "MINISTRY". For me it is definately a ministry. I can't imagine trying to keep up with what is really going on in the church and not be a member. For me at least this helps me in wording announcements, sending out phonetree messages and talking to members on the phone. Most of the time I know what is going on in their life and I know why they may be upset. I can't imagine carrying out my duties to the Lord and to the church and not being a member.

Elizabeth, I loved your ideas! I'm going to make those part of my Sunday mornings! I also thought this was a great topic, and the comments very interesting. I work where I worship, but was a member for about 12 years before getting the job as Admin Ass't. I love my job, and I love my church, but sometimes.... Mostly I think it's me. Like the post from another Debbie, I see my job as ministry, and it's hard to sometimes put people off for a day. I love the staff that I work for; we're a strong team, and Sunday is a "work day" for them, so most of the time I don't feel like I'm working, just helping to minister.

I have been the Administrative Assistant at the church I worship at for 9 years. I am still setting boundaries with people and probably will for the remainder of my time here. I have a bin on the wall outside my office with a supply of note paper, envelopes, and a pen. I redirect people there with things that they want to hand me. I've asked people many times to send me an email or leave a voice mail for me, but interestingly, no one has ever followed through with that, and I usually end up remembering anyway.
I am leaving this job in a year to attend school full-time...a non-church career is in the works!

I worship where I work and I definitely see my job as a ministry. I came to the church office position after 25 years as a public school teacher where I was always on call so I went into the church secretary job with that same attitude. For 2 and a half years I was a lay minister at another church and so couldn't worship on Sunday at my home church where I work, and I really felt out of the loop on certain things, especially meeting and getting to know new members. Sure, people ask me to find something or do something on Sunday mornings (such as help them with the copy machine), but I'm glad to be of service.

I worship at a different church from where I work. Pastor prefers it this way so that I don't get caught up in any "drama". My husband and I do come to functions occasionally. But I know it would drive me crazy if I was here on Sundays; "my" office is available to everyone and there are a couple of members who sit at the desk and go through any papers sitting out; needless to say I keep the important things locked up. But it would bother me to see someone going through the office (it's bad enough just cleaning up the mess left behind such as coffee cups) so I just don't come in on Sundays. Although Pastor is a wonderful speaker and it would be enjoyable to come to service.

I have done both over the past several years. Several years ago,I worked for a church I attended (their requirement). I loved the church dearly, but did find it very difficult to separate the two...worship from work. I couldn't help but have work carry over to church, even though I tried not to let it. I now work for a church that I do not attend (I live in another area) and have seen a great advantage to not have my work life carry over to church on Sunday and I don't have all of those "gray lines" to constantly watch from the legal side. I feel a definite commitment to both the church I attend and the church I work for, but it's nice to be able to "further the kingdom in both" but not to have the conflict of where the "work" & "ministry" lines begin and end. I now feel I have the best of both worlds.

I have been working as Ministry Assistant for my home church now for 13 years. Since I have only worked for the church I attend, I can only comment on what I know. Being involved in the church I agree that you certainly have a better understanding of situations in the church and the congregations needs and knowing the members I feel is an advantage. I do view this not only as a job but a ministry and as frustrating as it gets sometimes getting caught on Sundays because that is when everybody sees you, I have to keep in mind that it is a ministry. I too try to get people to e-mail/voicemail me by telling them to please contact me that way because I may forget by next week. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I feel that I am appreciated by my church family which is something certainly most people don't feel in a secular job.

I not only am the Program Administrator at my church. I am also Education Committee chair, a Sunday School teacher, and sing in the choir. So while I do consider my job a ministry, I do not neglect being in ministry as a member. It is very frustrating to me when it is just assumed I should work extra hours because "my job is a ministry." The requests to do things on Sunday mornings is somewhat a problem but I find getting caught up in the dramas a much larger one. If I ever leave my current church to work at one church and worship at another that will be the reason.

I work for the church that I worship at, and have for the past 4 1/2 years. I have very mixed feelings about this issue. I do believe that in order to truly understand the dynamic of the church body that you work for you must also attend that body. However, the constant need to "work" during off hours also produces stress in other ways - my husband is a firm believer that when I am off the clock I should not be working. I see it as a ministry as well as a job, therefore will try to be helpful if it is something that needs to happen at that moment. Knowing the difference between those requests and those that can wait is key.
But, I must say it is more of a challenge for me to really enter into the worship, knowing that at any moment there could be an interruption.

I worship where I work. In fact, I attended the church before I ever started working here. While I don't generally have people approach me about things (the other gal in the office has that happen all the time, doesn't set boundaries, and tends to not remember when they told her), I do run the PowerPoint most Sundays. And if there are any issues with computers, video, etc, I'm the one they turn to. I have had times when I really resented it because I felt that it was a work day, with no pay, and that I wasn't free to worship. Plus I don't feel free to express my emotions because I have a certain image to uphold. And I avoid most church activities like the plague because I don't want to spend my whole life with the same people, yet those activities are generally designed to develop relationships.

I am a member of one church (and am very involved and active there) and have worked at another church, same denomination, for almost 22 years. I am a firm advocate for this approach. I find it invaluable to be able to worship without being church secretary. One very important factor I'd like to point out is that I am an employee, not a member/employee. I can be fired if needed. I know of a church where the secretary had a long family history in the church where she worked and worshiped - had recovered from serious health issues - but for reasons it is unnecessary to mention, needed to be let go. How do you fire a person in a situation like that? I benefit greatly by knowing wonderful people from two churches, and knowing them quite well.

I work where I worship. I have been working here about 5 years now. It is very difficult to separate my worship life and my work life. There are many Sunday's I am asked to "make copies" for someone.

My other issue is my personal involvement with the church. I take my church seriously and my emotions can be set off by the "drama"

I volunteer an administrative position for the church I worship in and get paid for a same denomination church in the same position. I found that you have to draw a line and try your best to stay on the "worship" side when worshiping and the "working" side while working. Easier said than done, but I find you have to train people!

The other side my family has problems with (and this is a whole other topic) is that my husband is a Physician and people seem to think he has office hours on Sundays, at church!

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