Keeping Watch


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

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

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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
niche…in 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

Keeping Watch
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