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Keeping Watch

Scott Meeks

Empowering your volunteers to step out and take risks can mean great rewards for your ministry.

As the young white-tailed doe timidly steps from the protection of the dense forest into the golden light of a small clearing, a proud buck carries his antlers high, watching for danger and offering protection. Though no predator is in sight, the buck knows from experience that trouble can appear without warning. The buck allows the doe and those that follow her to step out on their own, but still he keeps a sharp eye out for trouble.

This scene, Safe Passage, was painted by the great American artist Dalhart Windberg (; a print of it hangs on my office wall. This stunning painting has always reminded me that as we empower those in our care--our volunteers--to step out on their own, we must also keep watch and provide them protection.

In Hebrews, the author instructs readers to obey and submit to their leaders who, in turn, "keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account" (Hebrews 13:17, NASB). As you supervise volunteers in your ministry, keep watch over your charges, like the proud buck in the painting, but allow them freedom to step out and explore their ministries. The rewards and returns your ministry will receive from empowered, healthy volunteers far outweigh any risks.

Risk Experimentation

Your instinct tells you to protect and shelter your volunteers, which is good; you want to keep them safe and save them from hardship. But if you want volunteers to grow in service and dedication to ministry, you have to let them step out and take risks--risks that may bring struggle, pain, even failure.

In his book The Volunteer Revolution, pastor Bill Hybels says you can "sum up the key to finding the perfect serving one word: experiment." Stepping into service is an experiment. Some experiments work; some might not. The process teaches us what works and what doesn't.

Deanne, an outgoing and friendly mother of older teenagers, wanted to serve in the preschool ministry but she felt stressed within a few weeks of starting the new teaching position. Her family's busy schedule kept her from adequately preparing to teach. But with the support of the preschool director, Deanne kept trying other avenues to serve. Finally she found her niche as a check-in assistant and hall security monitor. Now she gets to interact with children without the time required to prepare lessons; and her leader filled an important ministry role with a committed and enthusiastic volunteer. The last experiment yielded the desired result. Keep in mind that during all this experimentation, Deanne's leaders were still keeping a watchful eye on her, but they let her risk by trying different positions.Risk Decision-Making

Patty took over a complicated weekly scheduling task for her leader. She embraced the challenge but wondered if she couldn't improve and simplify the cumbersome process. Timidly she broached the subject with her leader, fearing she might get "shot down." But her leader gave her permission to try her ideas. So Patty revised the scheduling methods. She found that some of her ideas worked, and some didn't; but the overall routine ultimately became much easier to manage. When Patty saw that her ideas were valued, she became more comfortable offering ideas and suggestions. 

Leaders, rightfully, tend to be careful in making decisions that affect others. The desire to see our ministries prosper and people flourish makes us cautious and deliberate. Good leaders develop a nurturing approach toward their volunteers, just as a mother nurtures her children, taking special care in decisions that affect their health and well-being. When you model this care and concern, empowered volunteers in your ministry will do the same. As the leader, keep watch--and step in only when you feel certain a decision will be harmful to the ministry, children, or families.

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