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Jesus-Style Volunteer Training and Leadership

Here’s how to do volunteer training and leadership following in Jesus’ footsteps—regardless of your budget.

“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 decoration.

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 life.

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.


Here’s a flowchart of what a Jesus-style ministry looks like in our church.

• CHILDREN’S PASTOR Meets weekly with division directors.

• DIVISION DIRECTORS Meet monthly with lead teachers.

• LEAD TEACHERS Oversee three to five teachers.

• TEACHERS AND CLASSROOM STAFF Mentor, disciple, and teach children.

• CHILDREN Change the world.

Gordon and Becki West are co-authors of The Discipline Guide for Children’s Ministry (Group) and founders of KidZ KaN Make a Difference and KidZ At Heart International (

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