I have very few hang-ups about volunteering (I’ll get to those later), it’s just that my schedule is so full already it’s hard to find the time to do the essentials, let alone add more things to the “to do” list. Between laundry, meals, cleaning, keeping up with independent and high energy boys, and trying to at least appear pulled together by the time my husband comes home, it exhausts me to even think about bringing on any other duty and devotion. But still it’s there, my desire to serve in some capacity and in some way that will really be effective. I have my excuses, and they’re legit; furthermore, I’m certain I am not alone. The question is how can ministry leaders filter through the various objections to serve and come up with a volunteer plan that is truly effective? Here are a few thoughts.
How to Get Volunteers To Work Like They’re Staff
Get to know your members
You’ve heard the idiomatic expression, “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole”. Why then do so many churches carelessly force people into volunteer positions they are not entirely suited for? Merely filling a need with a warm body is short-sighted at best and certainly isn’t accomplishing anything along the lines of discipleship. Can anything truly effective come from this? Methodically filling positions communicates that you don’t really care about the unique testimony of the individual and that minimal effort is being made to help develop God-given gifts brought to your doorstep. Instead, try pulling together a team to interview and disciple people in order to more carefully utilize gifts and skills.
Some folks don’t have a clue how to put their gifts and skills to good use in a fulfilling way. Some aren’t even aware they have any gifts. Whatever the case, building experience and knowledge is a great incentive for the inquiring mind and for those eager to explore potential and find a place to be useful and truly contribute. Provide opportunities for classes, hands-on training and even internships.
Map out a ministry path
There is nothing more frustrating than finding yourself slated, once again, for toilet cleaning duty. You don’t dare complain because then you would be perceived as lacking humility. We all know that to be great in God’s kingdom you should be the servant of all and most of us realize that in ministry you’ve got to start in a place that demonstrates an attitude of “servanthood”. But have you taken the time to consider that this may not be the volunteer’s first exposure to unskilled labor or the first time demonstrating the roll-up-your-sleeves posture? Carefully examine how that person may have already demonstrated preparation, theological training and even dishwashing, so to speak. Sure, none of those things put a person above task of scrubbing toilets; heaven knows some of us scrub them daily and with joy. But consider a ministry path that will result in an opportunity to exercise the things for which God has given desire and enthusiasm.
Encourage ownership, not membership
Pastor Emmanuel Sanchez, from Shadow Mountain Community church, helped me realize this concept. His challenge was to rethink the use of the word “membership” and consider substituting a better word like “ownership”. Members look at serving opportunities from the perspective of “my rights” and “my feelings” while owners roll up their sleeves, set aside their own comfort and do whatever is necessary to make things work. Members look at what is offered to them, and if it fails in any way to meet needs and desires, it’s time to move on and find another place. Owners personally invest themselves in whatever task they undertake and feel a deep satisfaction in the success of the ministry.
Share the vision
This goes along with the previous point. Where there is no vision the people perish, or simply run out of motivation. Share your vision and rally the troops. Draw attention to the big picture. Demonstrate the productivity of your ministries and how resources are being utilized. Finally, take time and opportunity to celebrate successes!
This sounds so obvious, but many times people don’t even know about the various opportunities available. Consistently present needs in a corporate setting throughout the year; you never know, something might pique the interest of the perfect individual for the job and help you avoid having to muscle the usual suspects.
Test-drive the opportunity, AKA First Serve
There are a number of ministries that employ this concept. Let people have the chance to try it out before signing on the dotted line. If it is discovered later that it isn’t a good fit this allows them to try something else with no regret or bad taste in their mouths. After all, it’s hard to commit when you are not certain you will be of any good at the task –or experience any fulfillment. Try it out first, with no obligation.
You may be thinking the same thing I was when I first contemplated adding this point. If volunteers are doing this for the glory of God, then their reward, even appreciation, should come from God. But here’s the thing, we all need encouragement! Scriptures gives countless examples of giving honor where honor is due, and appreciation and encouragement are wonderful motivators. Some of your volunteers work for thankless bosses in the secular world; shouldn’t things be different among a group of believers? Shouldn’t the culture be one of encouragement, care, thankfulness and appreciation? I think so too.
We are members of One Body
A church is handicapped when not all of its members are functioning according to their gifts – and every role is important:
“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” (Romans 12:4-6).