Do-it-yourself strategies on building an unstoppable volunteer team—straight from the Carpenter.
Have you ever wondered what ministry would be like with a dedicated and faithful volunteer team — a team filled with people willing to immediately drop what they’re doing to serve? Sound impossible? Jesus gave a strong and powerful recruiting presentation in which he simply said, “Come follow me.” Immediately, the disciples dropped their nets, quit their jobs, and even left their families to follow him. What could you accomplish in your ministry if you had a team with that level of dedication? (Okay, maybe not the part about leaving their families…but really, how valuable would such a team be?)
Almost every role in ministry involves working and interacting with others. Regardless of whether you’re building teams of leaders, teachers, or assistants, you can create an atmosphere where people — rather than positions or responsibilities — are valued. Jesus is a great example; he spoke to his disciples through his actions: building connections, partners, success, and balance — and ultimately, value. You can do it yourself, too.
Build Connections With Volunteers
Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 is one of the most beloved stories in the gospels. The woman, who’d just met Jesus, informed him that she didn’t have a husband. Jesus essentially responded, “You’re right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you’ve had five, and the man you now have isn’t your husband. What you’ve just said is quite true.” In this profound response, Jesus accomplished something remarkable; he built a connection with the woman. In that moment the woman knew Jesus truly knew her. He knew more than her name, occupation, or hometown. He knew her story.
Do It Yourself: Building value means building authentic connections with people you serve alongside. Too often the people we serve with can be nothing more than names and perhaps a phone number on a schedule. Jesus always saw people as individuals; real people with real emotions, real hopes, real desires, and real stories. An authentic connection with people is impossible without first knowing their stories. What are the most important things in their lives right now? What are their biggest fears? What are their greatest joys? What are their hobbies and interests? There are no shortcuts when it comes to building connections with people. Just good old-fashioned time, effort, and more time.
Nail It: Valuable teams are made of people who feel valued. By building connections with each other and knowing each other’s stories, you begin the process of building value within a team. Names on the schedule transform into real people with real value.
Build Partners With Volunteers
Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me,” was more than a recruiting presentation. It was an opportunity to partner with him in a divine mission. Likewise, people who “help out” may invest an hour of their time — but “ministry partners” invest themselves. They joyfully give not only their time, but also their thoughts, energy, and passion to bring tremendous value to the team.
Scripture reminds us that there are many parts but only one body. Likewise, when we allow team members to become partners in ministry, we let them see the value they bring to the entire body or ministry.
“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts –limbs, organs, cells — but no matter how many parts you can name you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of one Spirit, we all said goodbye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything” 1 Corinthians 12:12 (The Message).
Do It Yourself: Often we recruit people to be hands and feet, but we don’t let them see how they’re connected to a large and integrated ministry body. Transforming “helpers” into partners is a process that requires intentionality. Keep these things in mind as you begin the transformation.
• Powerful Words — Words and titles have power. If you want people to feel like partners, call them partners and avoid less-valuing titles such as helpers and workers.
• Basic Contacts — Without fail, greet your team, maintain eye contact, and use people’s names. Aloof behavior, even on busy Sunday mornings, communicates that someone isn’t worth acknowledging.
• Equal Treatment — Your team members may play different roles and have different responsibilities of varying weight. When you treat people as equals regardless of their contribution, longevity, or responsibilities, you enhance their personal value and build their connection to your ministry.
Nail It: When you build vested partners in your ministry, you create a team that’s connected and energized, allowing people to feel the respect and value you have for them and the role they play.
Build Success With Volunteers
One Sunday after hearing the pastor speak about the need for young men to step up and be a positive role model for children, Jason joined the team. The children’s director was delighted; the third grade boy’s class had been without a teacher for some time. Jason, a reliable, single 23-year-old, loved to have a great time with the boys in his new class. Unfortunately, things frequently spiraled out of control and often someone else would have to step into Jason’s room to settle things down when the noise or rambunctious behavior got out of hand.
After a few months, Jason concluded that he wasn’t cut out for children’s ministry. Maybe he’d be a better fit in the choir. He was about to step away from children’s ministry completely when the leader asked to meet with him. Over time she’d recognized and appreciated the passion Jason showed each week. He had a desire to reach and connect with kids in a fun and exciting way. Rather than letting Jason continue to fail as a classroom manager, she asked if he’d redirect his energy to coordinate all the games and activities at the beginning of the service. Jason happily agreed, and over the next six months children began arriving earlier and earlier to participate in the creative and engaging activities — all planned by Jason.
Placing people in roles that match their strengths allows them to be successful. This is essential for people to feel a sense of value. When Jesus called a bunch of fisherman to partner with him in his ministry, he told them he’d make them fishers of men. Fishing was something they knew a lot about. He didn’t ask them to become pastry chefs. He knew the value of putting people in roles where they’d be successful — even if it took a little time to find that niche.
Do It Yourself: How do you know when someone’s in the right role? Observe the person. Ask him or her. Get to know the person’s interests, motivations, and aspirations. By doing the work of building connections, partners, and success, placing people in the roles where they feel a sense of value and success is much easier and comes more naturally.
Here are questions to ask as you consider people’s roles and how to build your team for success.
• Whose role is too easy?
• Whose role is too difficult?
• When was the last time someone’s role was reassigned?
• What changes do we need to make for people to be successful in the future?
Nail It: When a person is successful in a role, your ministry is more successful. Individual success snowballs — it builds on the person’s confidence, increases motivation and initiative, and adds great value to the overall team. A properly fitting role certainly considers an individual’s abilities and gifts — but it also presents the right degree of challenge and may even push people outside their typical comfort zones.
Build Balance With Volunteers
Martha, a middle-aged mother of three, serves faithfully every week in the 3-year-old classroom. Martha is a star — creative, energetic, and always on time. In an attempt to value Martha and let her know she’s appreciated, the pastor stops by to tell her what a great job she’s doing and often mentions with a smile, “If it weren’t for you and your faithfulness, none of this would be possible.”
As Martha drives home one Sunday afternoon, her thoughts turn to her mother (hospitalized for two weeks), the parent-teacher conference on Monday (discussion about her son’s failing grades), and the fact that her husband just got additional responsibility at work (travel mandatory for the next six months).
She realizes she must clear some items off her plate to manage her life. Secretly, she’s prayed for an opportunity to step back from her responsibilities at church, but then she remembers the pastor’s words: “If it weren’t for you, none of this would happen.” How could she let down all the precious 3-year-olds she loves so deeply? Motivated by guilt, Martha continues to put on a smile and serve every week…at great cost to her family and personal spiritual health.
Do It Yourself: Building value for your ministry team requires that you recognize the human need for life balance. Mark 2:27 reminds us, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” We’re created with a biological, emotional, and spiritual need for rest. All of us will have times in our lives that require undivided attention. Take care to recognize when your team members are struggling. Create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable coming to you if they face a personal crisis that may impact their service. And while it’s great to applaud your team members, measure your words carefully so they don’t feel they personally bear the entire responsibility for the success — or failure — of your ministry.
Nail It: To authentically build value, it’s essential to encourage your partners in ministry to get sufficient rest, relaxation, and opportunities for personal spiritual growth without feeling guilty. This may cost you a team member now and then, but it’ll bring the rewards of a rested, vested, and enthusiastic team that serves out of passion rather than guilt.
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Jesus clearly demonstrated that building a dedicated volunteer team of people willing to drop whatever they’re doing to serve isn’t impossible. You can do it, too, by building connections, partners, success, and balance. And the labor is worth it-every person on your team will know how God views them: valuable, cared for, loved people working as partners to impact eternity.
Bill Love has served as pastor of children’s ministries at Grace Community Church in Detroit, Michigan.
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