How to elevate your volunteers from “just helping out”
to leadership roles in your ministry.
Just uttering the words “we need leaders” in the church is
likely to send people running for cover. That’s because there’s a
gap between the volunteer leadership needs of our ministries and
the number of people both qualified and willing to lead. I’ve yet
to meet a staff person who can honestly say, “We have all the
leaders we need. This isn’t an issue for our church.”
If you’re reading this article, finding and growing leaders is
likely an issue for you. You recognize the need for volunteer
leaders. You can present a biblical mandate for shared leadership
(everyone serves, not just the staff). Now comes the hard part —
convincing people, in particular those already serving as
volunteers, to lead. And once convinced, equipping leaders to
flourish in ministry. The problems Moses faced in Exodus 18 were
nothing compared to the challenges of 21st-century ministry (or so
Why is it so difficult to move volunteers toward becoming
leaders? Many of our most committed volunteers are reluctant to
take on a leadership role. What are their objections to leading,
and how can you overcome them?
Objection 1: I Make a Better Follower Than
This statement may very well be true of many of your volunteers.
Some volunteers do make better followers and are more effective and
fulfilled in serving in a follower role. A good place to start in
determining the answer to the leader/follower question is to
identify what you’re looking for in the leaders of your church and
ministry in terms of character, commitment, and competency.
Prayerfully develop a leadership covenant — a document that
captures the attributes and behaviors of a ministry leader for your
church. In creating such a document, consider including
expectations for self-leadership (relationship with God),
organizational leadership (commitment to church), and leadership of
others (relationships with followers).
Once you’ve created expectations for leadership in your church,
you can assess each potential candidate in light of those
expectations. Which behaviors and characteristics are already
evident in a volunteer’s life? Would additional training and
development strengthen any areas that are lacking? If the volunteer
possesses the gifts and attributes of a potential leader, then you
can address reluctance through training and development
opportunities, along with providing the individual assurance of
Objection 2: I’m Uncertain About the Ministry’s
Not all people with leadership potential are meant to lead in
your ministry — or even in the church. You may or may not have a
“litmus test” for leadership, but consider the potential impact of
a leader who isn’t in agreement with the overall direction of your
ministry. Differing opinions can be helpful when determining the
tactics for achieving goals and objectives — a little conflict
might actually sharpen leaders’ skills and ministry effectiveness.
If, however, a volunteer can’t support your ministry’s vision and
mission, his or her leadership can have disastrous results.
It’s worth the time and effort to communicate the vision for the
ministry in which they’ll serve and lead. A clear and compelling
vision bridges the gap between service offered and fulfilling God’s
purposes for your church. You will inspire people to lead, fueled
by a passion that’ll provide lasting motivation for serving.
People have a basic desire to “make a difference” — to give of
their time and service in support of something significant.
“Difference-making” should be easy for us to point out in the
church where God-empowered ministry can affect kingdom impact with
eternal value. Now, take it a step further. How will the person’s
contribution support the vision and mission of the church?
To provide the incentive for a volunteer to deepen his or her
commitment level, the vision and mission of your ministry must be
compelling. You must also communicate the difference people can
make as God works through them, especially those in leadership.
Objection 3: You Always Ask the Busy Person
You’ve likely heard the old adage, “If you want something done,
ask the busy person.” After all, we have a tendency to keep asking
the busiest people in the church to take on additional
responsibilities. In some ways, this makes sense. Our busy
volunteers usually rate high in commitment and consistency. Plus,
since they’ve always said “yes” to us before, they’re likely to do
so again and make our task easier.
While it’s great to have “go to” people who can help out in a
pinch, we need to develop a more long-term and healthy invitation
strategy. Instead of burdening our existing leaders with additional
responsibilities, what would happen if we instead found co-leaders
to come alongside as partners to share their ministry load? In
doing so, we not only communicate care for the leader, but we also
create a sustainable model for leadership development as the leader
trains an eventual replacement.
To take this idea a step further, equip your existing leaders to
find their own co-leaders. Challenge them to intentionally find an
apprentice — someone they can mentor in the same way as Paul did
Timothy. Chances are they’ll find their “Timothys” from the ranks
of your current volunteers.
Objection 4: I’m Already Overcommitted
Just because a volunteer has leadership potential and is “sold
out” to the vision and mission of the church doesn’t mean he or she
is ready to lead. A stumbling block in moving toward leadership is
the issue of availability. Passion for ministry is necessary, but
so is time.
As a society in general we’re overscheduled and overcommitted.
It’s no wonder people are reluctant to take on additional work,
even the Lord’s work. Part of the solution here lies in taking a
realistic approach in defining leadership roles. As you create
ministry position descriptions, give consideration to the actual
time it takes to complete every element of the position.
Factor in the time it’ll take for the leader to interact with
the volunteers under his or her care, or those served by the
ministry. Think about the issue of “span of care.” That is, how
many people can the leader effectively guide and shepherd before
the quality of care begins to suffer? We’ve all experienced the
tension of being overwhelmed by people-related needs. Much depends
on the type of leadership required by the given role — the more
hands-on the approach, the fewer people are placed under the care
of that leader.
You can add responsibilities to the leadership position later —
the greater challenge is resuscitating the leader who’s collapsed
under the weight of unrealistic expectations. Setting realistic
expectations for leadership roles is challenging in the beginning
by the very fact it’ll mean you’re going to have more roles to
fill. In the long run (and aren’t we in this for the long run?)
your efforts will produce rewards. Leaders will find more joy in
serving, and your ministry will develop a reputation as a great
area in which to become involved.