February 21, 2012 10:33 pm

Working with Volunteers

Posted In: Leadership


Working with Volunteers – Part 1

Volunteers Are Our Job.
As a church leader you need volunteers to accomplish the work you have been called to do. Without them the work will not get done. (Can you imagine the choir without the volunteers?) Volunteers are the driving force behind the work of the church. When we involve others, better ideas are generated and more work gets done.

But volunteers are more than agents who accomplish work. They are people who need to be discipled, connected to the church, and given an opportunity to exercise their God-given gifts. If we only see volunteers as a resource to accomplish a task, then we subordinate people (the volunteers) to the task at hand, and this is something we must continually guard against. Accordingly, it is the responsibility of Christian leaders to enlist volunteers in the work of the church—for the benefit of the volunteers. In this sense, volunteers are our work. In other words, getting a job done is only half our task; the other half is getting others to do the job, not only to relieve us of work, but in order to establish the volunteers. When people volunteer, they make a commitment. When they make a commitment, they tend to last. When people are involved in ministry they grow, build relationships, develop their own gifts, and sharpen those who work with them. Not only do people grow when they are involved, involved people tend to consume less ministry resources.

Finding Work

Since involving others is so important, leaders must constantly look for work and look for workers. By looking for work I am not suggesting that leaders do not have enough work; rather, I mean that leaders must discover ways to divide the work so it can be done by others. This is what Tony Morgan calls “chunking” in Simply Strategic Volunteers (pp. 21-22). Greg Starks, director of the discipleship ministry at New Life, recently illustrated this point quite well with the following scenario. When he teaches the Introduction to New Life class, a class designed to orient newcomers, he contacts potential students, prepares mailouts, prepares the lesson, stops by the store to purchase snacks, arrives early to make coffee, and finally sets up the room with chairs and multi-media equipment. This class could provide opportunities for three or four volunteers.

Look around. How can you involve others? What are you doing that someone else could do? Is there something new that could be done in order to give someone a job? Do you need someone to help with paper work, designing publicity, maintaining equipment, making phone calls, keeping records, setting up or preparing for a ministry event, cleaning up after a ministry event? The list could go on and on.

By involving others, not only do we lighten our load, we also contribute to developing a fellow believer! This is the true work of Christians leaders. We sometimes are overloaded by the work that needs to be done and overlook the real work—the work of enlisting volunteers.

Working with Volunteers – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the leader’s responsibility to get people involved. The old saying is true, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” It has also been said, “When fishermen don’t fish, they fight.” We don’t see a lot of fighting at church, but from a management perspective, people who are idle are more likely to be discontented. People tend to criticize what they do not understand and what they are not involved in. Likewise, people are a lot more likely to contribute to a church than they are to take from a church when they are involved. Involving others in ministry not only positions people to work together, the process of being involved forces people to grow personally. In many cases, this reduces their need for ministry resources, freeing up those resources for others. And while the uninvolved are more likely to be critical and disgruntled, those who have a vested interest in the church tend to stretch themselves to guarantee the success of the church. In Why Pride Matters More than Money, Jon Katzenbach makes a strong case for instilling institutional pride, namely a sense of ownership, respect, and responsibility for the organization, in the hearts of workers. Katzenbach notes, “People who are emotionally committed to something—be it a person, a group, an enterprise, a cause, or an aspiration—behave in ways that defy logic and often produce results that are well beyond expectations.”

But there’s another side of the coin: leaders have work to do. The only way we will get the work accomplished is by inviting others to join us in ministry. By involving others we not only help them to grow, we are also able to accomplish more work.

The I-ain’t-got-any-help myth
Leaders should realize that there is a workforce in front of them. There may not be experts and specialists begging to jump on your team, but there are usually willing people standing around. As the parable in Matthew 20:6-7 demonstrates, the reason many people are idle is because no one has employed them. If a leader continually lacks adequate help, the problem may be with the leader. The leader may be uncompelling, lacking in vision, or simply too far ahead of the people. These are topics for later discussions.

Although you may not always have the ideal candidates, you cannot wait until the perfect people come along before you take a chance on inviting people to join you in the work. It is so easy to look at other leaders and other organizations and envy their talent while disparaging one’s own. However, you must use what has been given to you. If leaders prove to be faithful and diligent with the workers God has brought to them, not only will those workers become productive, God will send other workers as well.

Match the Right People with the Right Jobs—Avoid Cattle Calls

When you have a lot of work to accomplish the tendency is to employee the first warm body that walks by. If you need manual labor, like two dozen people to clean out flowerbeds on a Saturday afternoon, just about anyone will do. (I’ve learned by

experience that this is not necessarily true!) But if you have more specialized tasks to accomplish, cattle calls don’t work too well (unless, of course, you are calling cows to dinner.) We recently conducted a survey of our congregation to find out people’s interests and talents. However, we did not put sign-up sheets in the foyer inviting whosoever-will to sing solos on Sunday night. (I’m sure someone would love to bring his soprano ukulele for the offertory.)

It is essential that leaders match the right people with the right jobs. Olives do not produce wine, and grapes do not produce oil. This is where a leader must often exercise diplomacy. Many times a person may have a desire to do a particular job, but for any number of reasons, he or she may not be suited for the job, or there may be another candidate who is better suited for the job.

Max Depree addressed this issue in Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community: “Especially in non-profit groups we tend to accept willingness for competence—a dangerous mistake. Willingness is necessary but not sufficient.” This is a tightrope for church leaders. A burden is absolutely essential for an individual to be productive in church work. Many times what a person lacks in other areas can be compensated for by his burden if he is honest about his shortcomings. However, desire and burden are not everything. Many other factors come into play when considering a person for a job.

What To Look For

Since the superstars are already committed up to their eyeballs, it isn’t a productive strategy to spend most of your time looking for superstars. (It is recommended that you grab available superstars when they come by, even if you have to create a new place for them to serve. But be prepared; superstars often bring their own set of demands.) Instead, look for potential. You can train them concerning policies and procedures. You can also mentor them in various ways. Leadership is not about involving perfect people; leadership is about developing people. Here are some characteristics to look for when choosing a person for a job:

• Possesses relevant skills
• Trainable
• Faithful
• Does not have exorbitant ego needs • Is disciplined

• Has a strong work ethic
• Suitable giftedness
• Personal holiness and commitment
• Ability to work under stress
• Ability to submit to authority
• Ability to work in a team setting
• Has the confidence of others
• Communicates well
• Demonstrates a burden for the proposed responsibilities • Has an aptitude for this kind of work

• Loves God
• Loves the church

Take Calculated Risks

Resumes and interviews do not tell all about an individual. I remember hiring a young lady once who interviewed well and had an attractive resume, but she later proved to be incompetent, and she did not learn new skills easily. Leaders must be prepared to take risks by allowing people the opportunity to work. Sometimes a leader gets burned, but this is part of a leader’s life. This does not mean a leader must expose herself unnecessarily. Here are some suggestions for limiting risk when inviting people to join you in ministry. (1) Solicit the input of key people before extending a position. (2) Check references when available. (3) Initially assign tasks instead of giving positions. (4) Use temporary or trial assignments. (5) Allow potential volunteers to visit the ministry context before they make their commitment. This will allow both of you to observe. (6) Use term limits, asking people to serve for a specified length of time.

When we as church leaders look at our responsibilities, the task can seem daunting. But as we divide the work into manageable pieces (chunks), it becomes clear that we don’t need a team of super-heroes; we simply need willing individuals to contribute in their unique ways. Our challenge, therefore, is getting people involved.


Contributed by Rodney Shaw – Pastor of New Life Church in Austin, TX

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