One of our shepherds at Legacy took me to lunch three weeks ago as sort of an informal exit interview. Once the sandwiches arrived at our table and the thanksgiving prayer had been offered, he got right down to business.
“Allan, if I don’t accomplish anything else today,” he began, “I need to talk to you about the ladies in the church office. They really love you. They are very loyal to you. They would do anything for you. They defend you, they protect you, they say wonderful things about you, they really enjoy working with you. Your relationship with them is uncommonly good. And it’s not like that at all churches. Sometimes the preacher and the secretaries don’t get along at all. There’s usually some kind of tension. Sometimes they don’t even like each other. But Jackie and Suzanne and Bonny all think you’re the best thing ever and they’re absolutely devastated that you’re leaving.”
“Now,” he continued, “that’s something we want to keep going with the next preacher. We want to keep that same dynamic between these ladies and the next minister here. So, tell me…
…what’s your secret?”
What’s my secret? I was a little surprised by the question. My secret?
There’s no secret.
I tried to explain that we had always openly and honestly shared our lives together in that office. We were completely transparent with one another. We knew one another’s strengths and offered constant support and encouragement. We knew one another’s weaknesses and practiced patience and understanding. We laughed and we cried together. We talked about our children, we went to each other’s family funerals, we played practical jokes on one another. We prayed together. We read God’s Word together. For over four years we worked together side by side, day after day, in a difficult environment. We depended on one another. We genuinely needed one another. There’s no secret. We really just grew to love one another.
But the elder persisted. He wanted more.
“What was your strategy, though? How did you make that happen? How do we make sure the next guy we bring in here is going to make it happen?”
I struggled to give him what he was looking for. What is it about honest respect and genuine trust and mutual encouragement and selfless sacrifice within a team that I could put into a nuts-and-bolts plan or formula? For some reason my explanations sounded abstract. He wanted practical. So I tried again.
I always treated the church secretaries as equals.
I recognized around the table at staff meetings, in the hallways, and in our offices that the church secretaries are Christian ministers, too. Absolutely. In fact, in many ways they are more on the front lines of congregational ministry than the preachers in the back offices and the elders in the board rooms. These are the ladies who answer the door, answer the phone, schedule the building, make the appointments, collect and compile all the information and communicate it to the church. They have the most daily contact with the members of our church. They have more opportunity to show God’s grace. They have more chances to extend God’s mercy and forgiveness, more times to share God’s eternal perspective on daily matters, more occasions to reach others with our Father’s great love. They are often the first point of contact with our church members and with people in our community who are hurting or grieving or doubting or depressed or seeking our Lord. Those ladies do more Christian ministry in a day than some of our “ordained” ministers do in a month! And I know that. I acknowledge that. And I treat them with the great respect that deserves. I value their input. I treasure their opinions. I depend on their evaluations and advice. I trust their judgment. I need them.
I told this shepherd that day that I really believe Jackie and Suzanne and Bonny and I would all four run through brick walls for each other. We would move heaven and earth to do anything for each other. And I think it’s because I always treated them as equals.
(And then I added that in a lot of churches there is tension between the ministers and the elders. Unfortunately, it seems to be unusual for elders and ministers to really get along, to really trust one another, to really love one another and be on the same page together. And if a board of elders really wanted that to happen, they might consider treating ministers the same way I treated those ladies in the office. As equals. Treat your ministers as equals. Show them respect. Value their input. Weigh seriously their opinions. Depend on their evaluations and advice. Trust their judgment. Whatever you do, don’t kick them out of your meetings. Don’t ever send the message to them that, when it comes time to discuss really important matters or make really big decisions, they don’t have much of anything to offer)
Suzanne, you showed me every day how to be compassionate. You treated everyone with dignity and respect. You constantly reminded me that, even when people are being rude on the phone or demanding in the office, our job is to show them the love of Christ. You modeled that perfectly. And I’ve never met anyone with a bigger heart for the weak and the marginalized. You inspire me.
Jackie, you always kept me grounded in the big-picture view of God’s Kingdom. You taught me great balance. You never allowed me to get too caught up in the specifics of temporary issues or too bogged down by temporary trials. You modeled for me a faithful trust in the sovereignty of our good and holy Father.
Bonny, you made me a better preacher. You equipped me by telling me what works and what doesn’t. You empowered me by your constant encouragement. You told me when I said or did something that helped you or changed your outlook. And you never held back when I said or did something that maybe I shouldn’t have. You didn’t let me get away with anything. And you challenged me to be everything God has called me to be. Because of you, the Gospel of Christ was proclaimed more clearly at Legacy.
Now, there’s a whole new set of ladies in my life who are “breaking me in.” Connie, Gail, Elaine, and Vickie. And I don’t know them yet. I don’t hardly know them at all. I don’t know their stories. I don’t know their strengths and weaknesses, their triumphs and trials. I don’t know what makes them tick. And I’m certain they’re wondering about me, too. I’m secretly terrified that Bonny, Jackie, and Suzanne might try to contact them in some way to give them some advice. Or warning.
But I expect us to become close friends. I expect us to grow to love one another. I expect God to work with us and through us together. I anticipate marvelous relationship. And why not? We’re all ministers.
We were so blessed to take Tessa to lunch on Friday and eat watermelon with her house parents and housemates at High Plains Children’s Home. We were also privileged to meet Tessa’s pig, Wilbur. It’s part of her FFA project. For those of you who know Tessa, you’ll be thrilled to hear that she’s doing great. Her life has changed. It’s been turned completely around. Thank God. And thank Legacy.
Jack and Charlotte Chambers were here at Central yesterday. I also finally met Stephanie’s Aunt Suzanne.
I rejoice in the baptism of Marshall. And Hayleigh. Our God is still saving and rescuing. He is still robbing hell. What a joy to witness it up close!
The girls started school today. Carley is a 6th grader at Bonham Middle School. She stepped out of the van this morning and right into a sea of what looked like a million middle schoolers. She just disappeared. Valerie is a lowly fish at Amarillo High, and Whitney is a Senior Sandie. Yeah, they’re Sandies. Amarillo High School is the home of the Golden Sandstorm. I’ve told the girls that you have to be pretty good to get away with a mascot like that. We’ll see beginning this Friday night when AHS takes on Midland in the football season opener.
Treat them as equals….works on a lot of levels. Too bad not everyone got it the way the 4 of you did.
Don’t know how the Bulldogs are this year but I have to root for the district. Sandies – is it bad when you are named after a cookie?
Yes, we would move heaven and earth to do anything for each other. We respected each other. We trusted each other. Were we unique? I don’t know. But you were the driving force behind what worked here. You challenged us to be better, do better. And we are all definitely better from having known you.
Totally devastated – yes. And this place will never be the same without you here. But God will continue to do great things through you where ever you are.
P.S. That email to your new staff is on the way………