5 Critical Ways to Keep Your Volunteer Team From Fraying
Published: September 19, 2022
Is your volunteer team running ragged? Read more to discover ways to maintain the fabric of volunteers’ spiritual lives.
A beautiful tapestry is so well-made that rather than looking at the fabric, one sees only the woven images and patterns. One loose thread pulled is no big deal, but if left untended, soon a large portion of the tapestry can unravel.
It’s the same with the fabric of our faith. When well-tended, the amazing image of our faith reflects the love and grace of God. Yet there are times we can run ragged or feel a little frayed around the edges.
Just think about all the threads God has woven to create the tapestry of you—and of all your volunteers. In Genesis 1, we read that we’re created in God’s image. And Psalm 139:13 says that God formed us and knit us together in our mother’s womb. The heart and soul of each and every person is unique and precious. In all of time, there will never be two people who are exactly alike.
In looking at our volunteers, we’re gazing upon an amazing tapestry being woven right before our eyes. Their spiritual fabric and the health of that fabric is what gives them breath and the energy to live abundantly. The spiritual life of our volunteers, their walk with God, and their personal relationship with Jesus are of utmost importance to us as their shepherds.
All of us have ragged-edge times. So let’s explore the following ways to care for the spiritual fabric of our volunteers.
1. Love Your Volunteers
Really love them! Love your volunteers with the love of Jesus. Be genuine, authentic, and real in expressing the value of each volunteer. What’s their love language? People tend to express and like to receive love in one or two of five languages: words, gifts, quality time, affection, or acts of service.
Words of encouragement, affirmation, and gratitude go a long way. Positive comments lift us up and cause us to walk a new walk. Listen and watch for times a volunteer touches another heart and life. Be there with a note or a comment. Let your volunteers know you notice and appreciate their ministry.
A meaningful gift, a small token of appreciation, or a helpful resource is an unexpected touch that lifts the spirit of a volunteer. The impact of a simple gift is very powerful. In fact, these items are so important that you need to have a line item for gifts in your budget.
Spend time on love.
For people who speak this love language, nothing says “I love you” better than time together. Go out for coffee, take a walk together, meet at the park or McDonald’s Playland to visit while your kids play. The investment of your time is a genuine, specific way to tell volunteers you care about them.
A hug, a pat on the back, a handshake, even a high-five communicates love in this language. So don’t be stingy with your affection.
Never discount the power of a casserole in times of need. To a person who speaks this love language, this simple act of service is better than getting flowers. Look for practical ways to meet needs.
Obviously, to do all this regularly requires commitment and time—time you may not have. So recruit and empower key people to join you in looking out for, shepherding, and loving volunteers. If you empower a team of people to make it their ministry to care for, assist, and love a group of volunteers, you’ll see volunteers who are energized—even when life frays their edges.
2. Form a Small-Group Ministry
Small-group ministry plays an important role in growing relationships with others and with Jesus. A small-group experience can be filled with the sharing of life stories, caregiving and receiving, accountability, and community.
I’ve observed congregations where each volunteer becomes part of a small group as a part of the volunteer experience, and amazing energy flows through the total ministry team. It requires more planning, people, and effort, but the investment is well worth it. Look for areas to incorporate a small group experience for every volunteer. Call it a team huddle, touch-base time, base camp, or small group ministry time—whatever you choose. Be innovative as you look at your programs. How might you offer a renewing, refreshing, vital small group experience for all volunteers?
Jesus modeled community and poured himself into his “small group” of 12. Jesus was preoccupied with loving people. Remember that it’s easier for volunteers to walk away from a task than it is for them to walk away from relationships. Plug your volunteers into relationships with one another.
3. Identify Gifts, Talents, and Passions
Have you helped your volunteers learn more about their gifts, talents, interests, and passions? Have you talked with your volunteers about their call in ministry? A great part of people’s spiritual health and wellness in a volunteer ministry is being in a place that’s a good match—the right person in the right place.
Recently, I was looking at a pencil in my husband’s toolbox. It was flat, not round like other pencils. The lead was thick, and I wondered how in the world someone would sharpen that pencil. My husband, a building contractor, said it was a roofing pencil. He said, “You know, so it won’t roll off the roof.”
Whoever thought about creating a roofer’s pencil designed it for a specific purpose. And God has created every single one of our volunteers for a special purpose, too. Your volunteers have a set of talents, gifts, interests, passions, and purposes. They learn in a variety of ways, process things uniquely, and sense their heart tugging them in many directions. To assist volunteers in keeping their spiritual fabric strong and growing, it’s important to raise awareness of the importance of learning about who they are all through life.
What are their spiritual gifts? Where do they seem to focus their attention? How can they learn more about their personality? What are the life experiences that shaped them?
If they’re placed in a volunteer position that’s not a good match for them, then they may experience a sense of feeling ragged. I’m not suggesting that every volunteer experience is filled to the brim with fun and frivolity. And we know that God doesn’t call us to what’s easy. Yet when people are serving in a situation where their gifts are used, they can more effectively maneuver through those tough times when they’re feeling a bit tired or challenged.
4. Build a Prayer Team
Do you have a prayer team in place that commits to praying for each volunteer by name? Before I recruit and invite volunteers to teach and lead children, I first recruit a prayer team.
One of those teams was called the Saturday Night Prayer Team Live. The team was made up of men, women, and young people. They didn’t gather on Saturday evenings, but they made a commitment every Saturday night, no matter where they were, to pray for each volunteer in our children’s ministry.
I gave the team members a list of all the volunteers who’d be ministering to children on Sunday morning. I also provided the Scripture that would be taught that day. The team members read the Scripture, looked at the name of each volunteer, and then prayed that God would equip every volunteer with energy and a passion to lead children to Jesus. They prayed that God would provide the volunteers with wisdom, just the right words, energy, and protection as they ministered to children.
On Sunday mornings, as our volunteers arrived, they knew that someone had been praying for them. Knowing that helped them move through any situation—even the unknown, unexpected, and uncomfortable.
5. Become a Lifeguard
Watch and listen. We’re in the life-saving business. Put an ear to the heart of your volunteers and look into their eyes. How are they doing? Are you aware of the signs of burnout? Watch for signs of volunteers feeling fragmented, running ragged, or being on overload.
Be proactive in this area, not just reactive. Jesus taught his disciples to take good care of themselves as they were healing, preaching, and teaching. He encouraged them to go to a quiet place and just be still. We all need to experience serenity and simplicity.
The beautiful part is that Jesus modeled prayer time and solitude for his followers. You, too, must model this prayer and solitude for your volunteers to continue to weave a strong tapestry of faith.
There will be times when we all feel a bit ragged. Follow these suggestions to keep raggedness from causing a volunteer to feel down, doubtful, angry, or even hurt.
- Truly respect your volunteers.
- Pray for and with your volunteers.
- Intentionally foster relationships among volunteers.
- Continually seek out healthy, spiritually mature leaders. Have realistic expectations of volunteers.
- Offer excellent training for volunteers.
- Organize programs and events to help volunteers succeed.
- Conduct an ongoing conversation with volunteers about the mission and passion of God’s church.
- Consider your volunteers’ spiritual well-being as one of the most important parts of their whole being.
Proverbs 4:23 states: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of life.” Jesus was preoccupied with loving people. May we be also!
Susan Lennartson is a small groups pastor in Stillwater, Minnesota.
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