Seven Traits of a Good Ministry Assistant (And Why I Have the Best One)

Ministry work isn’t for wimps. It requires a lot of you and your family, and the people you choose to assist you in it can have a great impact on the fruit it bears. Since you obviously want that impact to be a positive one, you need to choose your staff carefully—especially your personal assistant. Of course, an assistant should be a Christian who believes in the mission and vision of your ministry and is able to do the job, but too many leaders settle for the first person who meets those two criteria. You need to look a little more critically at a potential assistant, keeping in mind these qualities…

A good assistant… 

1) Realizes it's all about the boss. Good assistants realize their job is to help make their bosses more efficient, focused, and productive. Obviously, this doesn’t mean assistants are secondary or inferior; it just means their work, if done well, is not visible. Your assistant must be okay with this. If he or she expects to share your authority or get a vote on everything you do, then that person should not be your assistant—or anyone else’s for that matter.

2) Can be trusted. There’s an old joke that the most influential person in a church is the secretary. The reason it’s an old joke is that it is often true. Assistants know a lot of people, and they know what’s going on in the church. They know who is upset and why, who is struggling with sins and habits, whose marriages are falling apart, and countless other church issues. In addition, they will see you not only at your best, but also at your worst. Therefore, they should not be prone to gossip, talk too much about their jobs, or break confidences. This doesn’t mean they should hide leaders’ sins or cover up breaches of integrity. It does mean they should handle sensitive information with care.

3) Relates well with you and your family. Your assistant needs to pass the parking lot test—when you pull into the parking lot and see his or her car, does your heart sink? If the answer is yes, you’ve got the wrong person. Both of you need to feel comfortable with each other, and your family and your assistant need to have comfortable relationships as well. Constant tension between you and your assistant or between your assistant and your spouse will limit the effectiveness of your ministry. Pastoral work is fraught with tension and stress as it is—you don’t need any additional relational difficulties in the mix. 

4) Knows how you think. You will often need your assistant to do things on your behalf. This includes taking phone calls, setting up appointments, polishing articles, and forwarding emails. An assistant must know how you think and where your heart is so that he or she can act without a detailed explanation of how you want everything done. You need someone with a quick learning curve—someone who is able to effectively predict how you would think or respond in various situations. You also need someone who will represent you with warmth and courtesy because a rude or curt assistant can do significant damage to your ministry.

5) Has a healthy measure of self-confidence. Insecure assistants who are afraid to make decisions or implement plans without constantly asking permission are too high-maintenance. Their passivity may be easy to manage, but the time required to give them the affirmation and direction they need will reduce your productivity. Conversely, arrogant, fiercely-independent assistants who ignore instructions and professional boundaries can harm your ministry. You want an assistant who is self-confident but not egotistical.

6) Supplements your weaknesses. Ideally you want an assistant whose strengths are your weaknesses in order to maximize your productivity and improve the quality of your work. My assistant, Melissa, is skilled at grammar and writing. Her edits consistently improve my rough drafts of blog posts, articles, and letters. And since I am good at seeing the big picture and thinking quickly, I often overlook details. Conversely, Melissa is focused and detail-oriented, so she is tremendous at seeing things I miss. While it can be tempting to hire someone who thinks and works exactly like you do, it isn’t wise. Hire someone who is able to supplement your weaknesses. Your ministry will be better for it.

7) Understands the job is much bigger than the job. Assistants may occasionally be called upon to work outside of traditional office hours or take on extra responsibilities—like taking phone calls in the evening or looking over a document before going to bed. They may need to run errands or buffer high-maintenance church members so that their bosses can be more productive. This doesn’t mean leaders have a license to abuse or take advantage of their assistants, but it does mean assistants need to be flexible, especially if they work for high-capacity leaders. A job in ministry is always bigger than the job description and isn’t always 9 to 5.

These are some of the traits you should consider when evaluating or hiring a ministry assistant. And because my assistant, Melissa Anderson, fulfills each of these, I believe I have the best one in the world. And don’t even consider trying to hire her away from me because she’ll tell me, and then I’ll have to hunt you down and hurt you.