How to disciple volunteers as they disciple
“All power has been given to me in heaven and earth, therefore
go and fill vacant volunteer slots…”
Whoa! Wait a minute! Is that what we Christian educators are
called to do?
Not the last time we read the Great Commission: “Make disciples
as you go throughout the world (as surely you will) by baptizing
(the end product of evangelization leading to conversion) and
teaching them to obey God (continuing to do what you have done)”
(Matthew 28:19-20, paraphrased).
Too often, the tyranny of recruiting to fill holes causes us to
forget that ministry is about relationships. But as we focus on
relationships, as Christ did, we live out the discipleship approach
to volunteer management. This focus on relationships has had
long-lasting results in the lives of children, parents, and staff
members at our church.
Robin was a mother of two preschoolers who felt she “should”
help out in Sunday school. Over the course of several years and
many team meetings designed to disciple volunteers, Robin blossomed
from a teacher, to a leader, to a director, and finally to a
position on our professional staff. Her husband’s work relocated
her family to Colorado where she now serves as the preschool
director at their new church.
Michael and Mark were also discipled using this model. Through
the impact of being discipled as children, each of these boys
became interested in helping out at vacation Bible school. Today,
they’re both pursuing careers working with children.
The discipleship approach to volunteer management helps
Christian educators change children’s lives by focusing on the
spiritual health and personal fulfillment of the volunteer leaders
and teachers who in turn disciple children. How can you transform
your children’s ministry from a traditional fill-vacant-slots
approach to the discipleship approach to volunteer management?
Organize for maximum impact. Here’s how:
- Train a few leaders who’ll train others. Jesus trained 12
disciples who trained others who trained others. And, well, you
know the story. They changed the world! Designate overseers for
specific areas of your ministry — whether they’re paid or unpaid.
In our church, we have these overseers:
- Early Childhood Directors and Elementary Directors train lead
teachers who train classroom teachers.
- The Director of Staff Development oversees a team of telephone
recruiters and another team of trainers.
- The Family Life Center Director disciples room leaders and
coordinators in our preschool and child care center.
- The Program Director handles special projects and creative
support ministries. This director leads teams that handle
curriculum management, resources, follow-up of visitors and
absentees, children’s worship, missions training, and room
Meet regularly with your directors for training, encouragement,
teaching, and prayer. Our directors meet weekly to handle
day-to-day business, long-range planning, and evaluation. We take
the time for devotions, personal sharing, prayer, celebration and
mourning, and truly listening to each other. Team meetings often
point out the need for personal meetings to handle crises or for
more specific encouragement, training, or spiritual challenges.
Form manageable teams. Organize your ministry into small teams.
This will allow leaders to shepherd and disciple their team
members. Trained, full-time staffers may be able to supervise 12 to
15 people. Volunteers can manage three to five people.
God’s design for ministry has almost always been through teams.
God designed people with different gifts and personalities. When
those differences are seen as strengths and meshed together into
teams, volunteers have a greater sense of belonging and the
excitement of seeing something bigger than themselves come to
Meet the spiritual and emotional needs of volunteers. Burnout
never comes from hard work. It’s the result of emotional and
physical fatigue combined with a feeling of being unappreciated. We
try to avoid the burnout syndrome by caring for our workers. The
directors meet twice each month with their ministry teams for Bible
study, training, accountability, prayer, and fellowship.
A small group of teachers in a given classroom…or the workers
who sort curriculum…or the greeters who guide visitors…can
minister to their teammates. Joining this type of “ministry group,”
allows a volunteer to
- grow spiritually. A volunteer who receives personal
spiritual nurturing lasts longer and performs better, therefore
causing a greater impact in the ministry;
- save time. Since one group meets many needs-spiritual
nurturing and planning for the ministry task-the volunteer can
attend less meetings; and
- build friendships. People form a close bond with those
who best understand the joys and struggles of their ministry.
Clearly define expectations. Make a written job description for
each position. Have “disciplers” review job descriptions with
volunteers at least semiannually but preferably quarterly. On a
monthly basis, we affirm those responsibilities that are being
accomplished well, resulting in a trusting relationship that allows
for more direction and correction when necessary.
Keep classrooms small. In smaller classes, teachers get to know
children and establish mentoring relationships. Meaningful
relationships lead to changed lives. Most educators recommend these
teacher/student ratios: Nursery-1 to 3; 2’s and 3’s-1 to 4; 4’s,
5’s, and kindergartners-1 to 5; 1st- and 2nd-graders-1 to 6; 3rd-
and 4th-graders-1 to 7; 5th- and 6th-graders-1 to 8.
Publicly affirm special achievements. Our senior pastor recently
shared with the congregation the impact one volunteer had on a
visitor whose wife had just suffered a tragic death. Afterward, the
volunteer said, “Thanks, I was beginning to wonder if I should
quit. Now I know my ministry is really making a difference.”
As Christian educators, our prime directive is to change
children’s lives, building them into fully devoted followers of
Jesus Christ. We can be successful with the discipleship approach
to managing volunteers as we evangelize and disciple our children
through the changed lives of our workers.
Gordon and Becki West are co-founders of a Christian
education consulting service in Arizona.
THE DISCIPLESHIP MODEL
Here’s a flowchart of what a Jesus-style ministry looks like in
Meets weekly with division directors.
Meet monthly with lead teachers.
Oversee three to five teachers.
TEACHERS AND CLASSROOM STAFF
Mentor, disciple, and teach children.
Change the world.
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.