Heart Matters: The Stamp of Gratitude


The Stamp of

After 30 years in ministry, I’ve gained immense respect for
volunteers. Curriculum and room setup aren’t nearly as important as
the people who are willing to step into the classroom and share
their faith story with children.

The many gifted volunteers I’ve worked with inspire me daily-I
learned how to teach and minister from these sage volunteers.
Margaret, who was in her 60s, still took on those tough preteen
kids and knew them by name. Sue, a mom with elementary-age children
of her own, had a passion for handbells and taught child after
child the skill of ringing. Carol and Paul worked as a couple for
years to bring the Bible alive to third-graders. These are the
volunteers who stamp the heart of children’s ministry with

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Occasionally, though, a volunteer joins the ranks with an attitude
that can only be described as challenging. The volunteer may work
harder at promoting negative energy than ministering to kids. Or he
may strive to use “I” language to take credit for community
efforts. Or she may have the ability to push an entire Sunday
school staff into a polarized and unhappy direction. A volunteer
such as this stamps the heart of children’s ministry with

After several issues with one particularly negative and vocal
volunteer, I decided it was time to approach her and work for real
change. First, I put her on every prayer list in the church-staff,
prayer chain, and my personal list. I asked colleagues to pray for
her without giving too many details. And after several weeks of
prayer, I made an appointment to meet with her.

Using kind and grace-filled words, I told my volunteer how her
negativity conflicted with the message and mission of our church. I
explained how her behavior hurt children and the other volunteers.
Finally, I read the mission statement to her and asked whether she
felt able to teach without negative and critical statements.

The volunteer remained silent the entire time I talked. When I
finished, she seemed to melt before me. She wept, clearly
anguished. As I sat there handing her tissues, I began to feel that
God was talking to this volunteer right there before me.

When her tears finally subsided and she spoke, she told me about a
mother and grandmother who constantly criticized her. She confessed
that she knew she was negative, but said she didn’t know how to be
positive. And she said she dearly loved teaching Sunday school and
asked if I could help her become more positive. That I felt I could

On my office wall I’ve always kept a copy of “Attitudes,” an essay
by Charles Swindoll. In it, Swindoll says our lives are 10 percent
words and 90 percent attitude. For me, the biggest gift of this
essay has been that it places responsibility for my attitude
squarely on me.

I took the essay off the wall and read it to my volunteer. She
smiled through tears and said she’d love to get a copy. Right there
I handed her my framed copy, and we agreed to work together to help
her be successful. Then we prayed together before she left.

Over time I watched this woman-who had potential to be a truly
“bad apple”-transform into a more loving, willing volunteer. And I
learned from her. Now my life and ministry are stamped with
gratitude-to God, who transforms us through love, grace, and
honesty. cm

Christy Olson is an associate in ministry in the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America and an adjunct professor at Luther
Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Heart Matters: The Stamp of Gratitude
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