How does a solo pastor manage the phone with no secretary?

I am sometimes asked by other pastors how I handle the phone since I have no secretary. My answer?

Turn the ringer off.


You’d be surprised at the people who call or email the church to ask what we believe just so they can dispute with me about it. If you don’t go here and don’t intend to go here, why do you care?

(And without exception, no one who has done this actually had more than a basic idea of what they were talking about to begin with. I’m pretty sure my kids know more than most of them. They just wanted to pick a fight. And I’m the wrong person to try that with. With these people, I usually Proverbs 26:5 until it becomes clear I should Proverbs 26:4.)

But most of the people who call the church are either (1) salesmen or (2) people looking for money. Both will leave messages. If they don’t want to leave a message then it wasn’t important to begin with. (That’s how I operate: if it’s important I leave a message, if not, I don’t.)

In the twelve years I’ve been here I can count on both hands with fingers left over (and I’m being generous here) the number of people who called genuinely seeking information about our church or genuinely seeking help or spiritual counsel or spiritual direction. Many of these called early on Sunday morning, not on Tuesday afternoon.

More than 85% of the people who visited our church in the last six years found us via the internet. Of the other 15%, less than 2% called us before they came to visit and most simply wanted to confirm times.

So when you don’t answer the phone, you’re probably not missing anyone who really wants to give your church a shot.

What about people in my congregation?

Most of the time they aren’t calling for anything urgent. If I recognize their number, of course I’ll answer it if I’m not already on another line, or with someone.

My one rule: Appointments (whether phone or face-to-face appointments) take priority over drop-ins or unscheduled phone calls. This is a hard rule that I would only break in extreme emergency. In twelve years here, I’ve never had to break it.

I check voicemail like I do email: I set aside certain times of the day to check it and respond. The rest of the time I do my work.

Most people who attend here know how to get in touch with me in an emergency, or they know someone who knows how to get in touch with me. Even though my cell phone is a personal cell phone (that is, it’s mine and not paid for by the church for church use) most of the church knows the number and knows how to get me on it. Some don’t call me anywhere but on my cell.

Never, not in twelve years, has anyone failed to reach me when something was really important.

So don’t even bother with the phone.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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