I love waking up to a New Year. There is something about the clean break between an old year and a new year that unleashes an optimism about the possibility for change. It forces me to consider what it is I want to achieve and frees me to think boldly, creatively, and courageously about making it happen.
There is something about the clean break between an old year and a new year that unleashes an optimism about the possibility for change. It forces me to consider what it is I want to achieve and frees me to think boldly, creatively, and courageously
As I have reflected on the important and fruitful commitments I can make as a church leader in 2019, I returned once again to what I have become convinced is fundamental to church growth, the maturity of the saints, and the spread of the gospel; a commitment to recruiting, inspiring, and sustaining volunteers.
I am not sure how many church leaders get an excited heart flutter at the thought of recruiting, inspiring, and sustaining volunteers in our churches. More likely, a feeling of slight panic as rostering, gap-filling, and unreliability come to mind.
I suspect, however, that responses to expressions such as: ‘thriving ministries’, ‘ministry growth’, ‘maturing Christians’, ‘manageable workloads’ and ‘gospel growth’ would be a different story. This is the heartbeat of most Jesus-loving leaders in the church.
But excellent recruitment and sustenance of volunteers is the central nervous system of thriving ministry structures and ministry growth. Below are five points for the church leader who is committed to unleashing God’s people into enthusiastic, committed, sacrificial, humble, gospel-centred service in the church of Christ in 2019!
1. Understand personal narrative.
The church is not a sausage factory. It’s a dynamic, diverse group of people that God has brought together in Christ. That’s what makes the church so amazing. But what this means is that to see people really fly as volunteers, leaders of churches need to resist the urge to be more concerned with filling gaps in rosters than they are about helping people serve in a way that aligns with their personal narrative. We need to sit down with people and ask the following questions:
- What does it look like for you to live faithfully and courageously for Christ this year?
- What excites you?
- What energises you?
- What are you passionate about?
- What ministry sparks your interest? Why?
- What do you want to get out of serving?
- What are your present commitments and what do they demand from you?
Asking these questions can tell you a lot about a person. Not only is it going to give you a good idea of what role is going to see them thrive and be a source of ongoing joy and motivation, it also gives you a touch-point to come back to. Six months down the track in enables you to say: ‘At the beginning of the year you told me that you wanted to join the welcome team to connect with more people at church. Is that happening for you?’
2. Cast vision (future and present).
Casting vision is about:
- helping people see their own gifts and capacities, and;
- providing a clear vision as to how those gifts and capacities could contribute to something significant in the church.
Self-aware people will already have the first, and they will need help with the second.
Unfortunately, most people are not very self-aware. I am pretty sure that this is because on the whole Australians are not great at telling people what they do well. Perhaps this is because most of us are too insecure to articulate the strengths of others when we see them, or too self-absorbed to focus on the qualities of others for more than a few passing minutes.
Unfortunately, most people are not very self-aware. I am pretty sure that this is because on the whole Australians are not great at telling people what they do well.
What this means is that we as church leaders need to work hard to look out for others’ gifts, and even harder to provide our church members with a clear, detailed vision of what we see (e.g. ‘you are such a great communicator’, ‘you are so good at making new people feel welcome… your manner is warm and you put people at ease’, ‘you are incredibly reliable and organised’). We then need to marry this observation with an articulation of why their unique gifts and person would make a significant contribution to a wider vision. For this wider vision to be as motivating as possible, four levels of vision need to be communicated:
- The wider Kingdom vision (e.g. making disciples of all nations).
- The church’s vision as an expression of that wider vision (e.g. knowing Jesus and making Jesus known).
- The vision of the specific ministry in focus and how it contributes to the realisation of the wider church vision.
- The vision of how a particular role within that ministry frame serves the vision of the ministry it sits under (which subsequently serves the church’s vision and the wider Kingdom vision).
3. Create a strong foundation for success
No one is going to feel good about their contribution if they have a go and end up floundering, letting a team down, embarrassing themselves, or sense others’ frustrations with them.
Let’s say a church leader recruits a volunteer and they fail to follow through with what the leader had envisaged. That church leader needs to ask: ‘What support was missing? What information did they need? What training would have been helpful? What direction should I have provided?’
The more clearly the expectations of a role are communicated, the more support is offered throughout the lead-up to an event, the more training given, direction provided, feedback shared, the more a volunteer will be set up for a win. The problem (and why church leaders are so often terrible at this) is that setting people up for success takes a lot of time. It requires a lot of input and support. But in the long term, a volunteer who has been set up to succeed is usually a happy one. She gains confidence in her abilities, sees the vision come to fruition and subsequently gives it more of her time.
4. Communicate value and appreciation.
It doesn’t matter how much someone loves Jesus, if a volunteer doesn’t feel valued, it is extremely unlikely they will volunteer for long. There are many ways to communicate value and appreciation. One powerful way is by giving thanks, publicly. A cheer of thanks on a Sunday, a mention in a sermon, an acknowledgement in the weekly church email. This is great for the volunteer themself, but also very powerful in inspiring others to serve. They know that if they do, it won’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Private appreciation is also important. In our digital world, good old-fashioned cards or phone calls go a long way. But you can also express appreciation of volunteers is simply by treating them well: buying them coffee or lunch, paying for their parking, calling them on their birthday, turning up at their housewarming party, going to their soccer game. Our volunteers need to know that you value them, not simply because they free you from thinking about slides on Sunday, but because they are people worthy of your value, appreciation, and care.
5. Instil confidence and trust.
It is important that you have confidence and trust in your volunteers. But it is also important that they have confidence and trust in you as their leader. They need to know that you will encourage them when they do well, be gracious when they fail, and take responsibility for your part in their failure—but never for their success.
They need to know that you will encourage them when they do well, be gracious when they fail, and take responsibility for your part in their failure—but never for their success
Henry McCloud in his excellent book ‘Integrity’ talks about the importance of leaders building trust through strength, but also through vulnerability:
Trust has a requirement of strength and power. Kids, for example, feel secure with a strong parent, and lost without one. Couples stay in love when their partner is strong enough to respond and depend on. But, on the other side, if people are so strong that they are impenetrable in some way, or even so much stronger than we are, there is too much of a gap to bridge between the hearts. We can’t identify with them enough to think they will understand us. They are too much “unlike” us for us to trust them, so we hold back and instead talk to people who do not seem to be so “other-worldly” that they can’t relate to us as humans.
For those who are paid staff clergy, being ‘the church minister’ will automatically carry strength. So we need to work extra hard at being relatable.
Unleashing God’s people into the use of their gifts for the building-up of God’s church is one of the greatest privileges I can imagine. It’s those moments when I turn up to church, and God’s people are overflowing with the joy and satisfaction of contributing to something great that I remember why I do what I do.
As you consider what is worth your time in 2019, may God inspire you with a heart for his people, and equip you with everything you need to see the people of God fly in their service of Jesus this year.