For the past 43 years my wife and I have worked with a person who knows she has a high calling. God gave her gifts for this calling, and the ministry she has exercised fits who she is and gives her a sense of fruitfulness and satisfaction. That is the way it is supposed to be in God’s economy; he designs us with specific qualities to match His plans for us and to make us fit well with others who have different abilities.
A few years before she came to YWAM, she trained and then practised as an executive secretary. When she arrived I had no idea how much she would change our lives and increase our effectiveness. In those days secretaries were honoured in the workplace; it was a respected and essential position in most companies and organisations. Secretarial skills required time and hard work to perfect, and anyone aspiring to that role had to be intelligent with good social skills. They had to have good spelling, grammar and typing and they had to master shorthand—a completely different way of writing! They also had to be able to keep confidences, be a source of wisdom in sensitive conversations, and extend a sense of welcome to anyone contacting their office and the person they served.
In my case, my secretary also had to train me and I am sure that more than one “boss” was mentored by his or her secretary. I had never dictated letters before and it was an uncomfortable exercise. When I had finished a paragraph and she had taken it down in shorthand, I would sometimes ask, “How did that sound?” She often replied with a gentle correction, “Perhaps you could say it this way….” Then, when I was finished, she knew exactly how to layout a good letter and type it without mistakes. She also had the skills to sit in a board meeting, take notes and produce an accurate record of the meeting in the form of minutes. What a treasure!
Then, along came personal computers, personal digital assistants, smart phones and some wonderful communication tools. It seemed secretaries were no longer needed. But I recently read an article where the author expressed how many people feel these days. She wrote that she has five PDAs, including Siri and Cortana, but complained, “so why do I get so little done?” It’s because she doesn’t have a secretary! No digital assistant can do what a secretary does.
God designed us so that we need one another. When Paul wrote to the Romans and Ephesians, he made it clear that we can only live well and fruitfully when we see ourselves as part of a body (or you could say team). God has designed people with a wide array of gifts, and no number of digital assistants can come close to the effectiveness of people working together according to the gifts God has given.
The letter to the Romans lists a number of ministry gifts in Chapter 12 and the second one is the gift of helping: “If your gift is serving others, serve them well.” A good and contented secretary will almost certainly have the gift of service. If that person has applied themselves diligently and acquired the skills of a secretary, then their service will “bear much fruit”, as the scriptures say.
At this stage of our lives, Marti and I spend quite a lot of our time training younger leaders and we get to know their joys and their pressures. One of the most common pressures is stress and stress often comes from doing tasks we are not gifted or skilled to do. Many people who carry leadership responsibility actually spend much of their time, typing emails and texts, organizing their schedule, coordinating dates and invitations and other arrangements for meetings, booking transportation, keeping accounts and many other administrative tasks. Good leaders rarely have the gifts and skills to do those things well; they need others to serve with them.
On the other hand, I think there are those who do have the gifts to do those essential administrative tasks, but they are often not available. Why? Perhaps it is because we think digital tools have made secretaries redundant so people with the gift of service are no longer drawn to that role. There is probably a more likely reason. Paul addressed it in some measure when he wrote about spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians. He said it rather bluntly when he said, “In fact some of the parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.” Given the way people think, some of the spiritual or ministry gifts get more honor than others. Those who have a healing gift, or a leadership gift, or a teaching gift, get recognition and honor because they use their gift in public. Not so for those who serve at a desk.
We are created with a need for some measure of recognition and honor; it’s not wrong to feel that need. So, as Paul suggested, those with the gift of helps should be given special honor. If we honor that part of the body more, then we will see more people using the gift of service they have been given and some of those will also put in the effort and hours to acquire secretarial skills.
I can now look back on 45 years of ministry in YWAM. Because God gave me a wife who is both a secretary and a very good organiser, and Terry, a secretary who is highly skilled and has served with us for 43 years, we have been immeasurably more fruitful then we could ever have been otherwise. Many people who know me think I have been very fruitful but it’s simply not true. WE have been fruitful! I am part of a body/team and, as we have all worked according to our gifts, fitted together with one another in harmony, we have indeed been very fruitful decade after decade.
Long live secretaries!