2-4-6-8 Who Do We Appreciate? Volunteers!
Published: February 15, 2023
What do you appreciate? In children’s ministry we already know who we appreciate—our volunteers. We can’t function without them, and, if we’re honest, we have probably awakened in a cold sweat from a nightmare where one of our best volunteers left the ministry! So we make sure they know how much we appreciate them. We lavish them with T-shirts, books, cards, notes, and outings. And if we don’t have the budget, we remind them that they’ll get the biggest reward in the next life!
If we’re not careful, however, appreciating our volunteers can turn into a marketing initiative bent on keeping them rather than on valuing their worth as human beings and image bearers. If we can express to our volunteers what we appreciate about them, it could really make an influence in their lives. So consider these three suggestions when you appreciate your volunteers.
Appreciate their time (as a precious commodity).
Gather your leaders in a private room and have them share what they really think about volunteers. You may be surprised to discover a love-hate relationship! Children’s leaders are grateful that volunteers show up, but often get frustrated when they come late, arrive unprepared, or don’t come at all. Some leaders may say they can’t see what the big deal is to “just give an hour or two a week” to the ministry. Looking at it from a volunteer’s standpoint, though, we can see how those two hours may be the most sacrificial two hours of their week.
To appreciate the sacrifice, put yourself in the volunteer’s place. Volunteer for an organization you don’t lead, at a time that comes after a full day of your work, on an evening when you give up time with friends, family, and relaxing. This is the kind of time volunteers are giving. It’s possible that their “two hours” are worth more than your two hours. More has been sacrificed. Just listen to the echoes of Jesus watching the widow who gave out of her poverty, not out of her excess. Jesus blessed her for her sacrifice.
Appreciation means blessing volunteers, recognizing the sacrifice they are making for the kingdom, expressed through your ministry. When you are all together for those “two hours,” remember Jesus’ blessings upon them.
Appreciate their progress (as more important than results).
Everybody wants a perfect volunteer—one who is mature, wise, interactive, sacrificial, fun, collaborative, and the list goes on. The problem is there are not any volunteers (or children’s pastors) like this! Remember this, and don’t wait for a successful result to appreciate your volunteer. Children’s leaders often appreciate volunteers because x amount of kids showed up, or x amount of dollars was raised. While they are well-meaning, these statements communicate that appreciation is associated with results. Instead, consider appreciating your volunteers in their progress.
Each volunteer is starting the volunteering journey at a different point, and ministry leaders must appreciate each volunteer’s progress according to where he or she is on that journey. This approach will encourage younger or newer volunteers who may not be as experienced as the veterans but are really growing into their role. And it will challenge veterans who are appreciated for their many years of service but continue to need encouragement to pursue their own ongoing transformation as volunteers. Instead of generic, results-oriented appreciation, customize your appreciation as you cheer along each volunteer’s progress.
Appreciate their failures (as an indicator of risk-taking).
Related to progress, make sure you take time to show volunteers that you understand their failures. Everyone involved in ministry takes a risk to journey together as a faith community.
Admittedly, there are times when volunteers do stupid things. We all have done our share of groveling to supervisors because of well-meaning volunteers doing, saying, or trying things that create messes, cause parent uprisings, or evoke whole church disdain. Children’s pastors must channel enthusiastic volunteer energy.
There are times volunteers are told their role is so important and children are so precious that they can feel paralyzed to do anything for fear that they will mess the kids up. Be mindful of how you encourage volunteers in their positions. Love is a risky endeavor. It puts self behind the need of others. When one steps away from “self,” one enters foreign territory. Volunteers enter children’s worlds with little confidence or natural instinct to connect, be “popular,” or be relevant.
Yet love compels them to stand uncomfortably with an awkward preteen, to talk with a one-word-responding child, or to sit next to the hyperactive kid.
What looks like failure, however, is far from it. The success in children’s ministry might be the failures of volunteers trying to get it right. Children, then, are not impressed with how savvy adults are. Rather they come to embrace volunteers’ attempts to love them and build relationships with them.
So appreciate the failures. See failure for what it really is: the realm where love comes through.
This is what appreciation looks like.
What could volunteer recognition look like when children’s pastors appreciate volunteers using the above concepts rather than results-driven benchmarks? The challenge is to catch volunteers doing amazing things that are rarely seen. Part of the role of the children’s leader is to see the little-big sacrifices made, cheer on the small steps of progress, or find the kernel of success in what appears to be failure.
It’s in the little things that the kingdom of God emerges. Let’s look for it, anticipate it, and appreciate it in our volunteers.
Looking for a tangible way to show appreciation to your volunteers? Check out Heartfelt Thanks and What You Do Matters (and their corresponding notecards here and here!). These books are full of inspiration and Scripture to keep your volunteers encouraged in their ministry. For even more leader resources, check out these ideas!
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