I have been a volunteer and I have been the leader of volunteers (sometimes as a success and sometimes as a complete flop). Here are the things I have learned working in churches and non-profit organizations.
1) Delete the word “volunteer” from your vocabulary. The word volunteer denotes something temporary in service and commitment. It does not represent ownership, partnership or leadership. It also carries the air of a hierarchical structure. Scripture is clear; every ministry role in the church is of equal value. Ministry roles may be different but they are equal (1 Corinthians 12). Try words that illustrate the oneness of the Church. I like the words: Partner or Minister.
2) Understand your organizational culture. Before you can know how to get more partners for your ministry teams you need to understand what part of your organizational culture is preventing partners. I will let you ponder that question but you might also find some answers below.
3) Prerequisites. Jesus didn’t have prerequisites. He said, come follow me. Learn from me. Do what I do. When (not if) you make mistakes, apologize, ask for forgiveness, learn from it and move on toward My mission and for My glory.
Institutions created prerequisites to protect themselves. But here is the problem – people are messy, prerequisites or no prerequisites. There are a couple of things to consider when setting guidelines for ministry partners.
First, people are busy. If they desire to use their gifts in your organization, they are no longer willing to jump through a list of proverbial hoops to get you to trust them. They can go elsewhere or be content to invest their energies in their own interests, family, or friends.
Second, prerequisites create a consumer mentality. If you do not have a culture where everyone participates, then you have a culture where a few do all the work. While the few burnout, the rest bury their gifts and the stories of obedience to service that were meant to be share with others. Eventually those gifts and stories die and so does the person’s love for serving.
4) Fear. Brennan Manning said, “Fear is what makes people hold onto power.” Like I said before, people are messy. It doesn’t matter if they are a one-day old Christian or a faithful-fifty, people will make mistake. Sometimes small and sometimes big. The reputation of your organization is on the line and YOU are the leader. In this case, most leaders believe this is the perfect solution: DO-IT-YOURSELF or hand-pick a select few that you trust with your life to control everything.
The bottom line about fear: When we fear, we put our trust in our own ability to control the situation or environment. Who should we put our trust in and who should control our organizations? There is only one answer. We must surrender our fears and desire for control to a perfect and loving God who is the one who is ultimately in charge of our organizations destiny.
4) No equipping toolbox. First, you must have an avenue for people to discover their strengths within your organization. Secondly, once you know what a person’s strengths are, you set them free without any organizational context or instruction. Personally, this has been one of the biggest mistakes I have made as a minister in the Church. I believe in people, champion their gifts, strengths, and talents and have no problem giving power away. But if the ministry partner has no idea how to apply their gifts within the context of your organization they will quit. Ministry partners (like employees) must have a clear vision, direction, expectation, and resources to be successful.
5) A lack of feedback and recognition. How many of you reading this article feel you get enough feedback and recognition for the work you do? From my experience and research, I would assume close to 100% of you said NO (Yes, even if you are on my team). Humans are innately designed to be recognized. God designed you to be heard and seen. It is part of your DNA make up. It is part of what gives us value and worth as people. Some believe that ministry partners don’t need feedback and recognition because they get their reward intrinsically – meaning we feel good about doing good, especially when we are using our gifts and talents that God has given us. But over time, the intrinsic value of service will wear thin without any feedback or recognition from the organization and the person will quit or move on.
Mother Teresa said: There is a tremendous strength that is growing in the world through . . . sharing together, praying together, suffering together and working together. We were meant to work together, in unity, using our individual gifts, talents, and experiences to bring Christ’s light into this world. As leader’s it is our job to equip and encourage other to walk together in the shared strength of service.