Low Man on the Totem Pole (Sample story from “Preachin’ to the Pastor)

The conversation over lunch was light, fun—the get-acquainted time I cherish during “Lunch Break with Linda,” a ministry in which I try to meet as many church office workers as possible when I travel. After the last fork clanged against
the plate, it was my chance to learn more about my lunch guests. “Terri, how would you explain to someone outside of the church about your position?

”The brightness in Terri’s eyes dimmed, and a second later she replied, “Low man on the totem pole.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“Even the janitor gets more acknowledgement than I do.”

Terri is the sole staff support on the staff where she serves, along with two part-time pastors, a musician, a youth director, and a janitor. Terri went on to say, “I’m the last to find out about things and the first one to get blamed when things go wrong.”

I wasn’t prepared to serve as a pastor at that moment, but God put words into my mouth: “Terri, you are the low man on the totem pole in the church. Think about it…the structure at the base of the totem pole is holding up everyone else. That’s what support staff does. But without the right balance above you, the whole staff will tumble and
break you into pieces.”

Sharon, another guest at the luncheon, listened intently to the parable of the totem pole and then added, “This is how I see the stage set at church: The secretary publicizes the event and prepares the program. The janitor cleans the stage and puts the props in the right place. The musicians set the mood, and when everything is ready, the pastor enters and performs. No publicity or stage, no audience. No audience, no performance.”

Pastors who have worked without a secretary understand the theory of the totem pole. They tend to treat their staff as “angels” sent from God, and they find comfort in knowing that even a 7.0 earthquake won’t topple the totem pole in their church.

During a retreat I recently led for church support staff, we read the words of Proverbs 31:10 – 31 and substituted the “woman”with “church secretary,” such as in verse
ten: A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds…A good church secretary is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. Try it and have fun with the words. Define how you would like the pastors and other church staff to see you as the person God called to serve in the church office.

If you feel like Terri—being squashed at the bottom of a spiritless totem pole—it’s time to have a talk with the Master… and then with the pastor.

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