Leading volunteers, Part 1: Why and who

Brandon Andersen » Scripture Church Leadership Wisdom Coaching

Why are we recruiting volunteers in the first place? Who are these people we’re recruiting? In this first of a two-part series, Mars Hill Deacon Brandon Andersen will cover some of practical tools to help organize and lead volunteers with a mind toward ministering to the volunteers themselves.

The most common mistake in leading volunteers is over-prioritizing a ministry objective and under-prioritizing the development of the volunteers themselves. A volunteer ministry is just as much about ministering to the actual volunteers as it is being in what they are doing. Balancing the two is the key to a healthy, fruitful volunteer ministry. I have been leading and utilizing hundreds of volunteers for many years and learned a lot of tough lessons along the way.

The why

“Why are we doing this in the first place?”

Before you and your ministry team set out to do something, it’s a good rule of thumb to pin down why you’re doing it in the first place.

It has to be for Jesus

Jesus needs to be the motivation for your team, and vision is the instrument to lead them there. A lot of what volunteers do is not glamorous, so if they don’t understand the importance and impact, their motivation will drift. Always begin with vision that what they are doing is to serve God out of gratitude and to serve his people. This needs to be established before you move to expectation and imperative.

It’s also for the volunteers

When recruiting, if you feel like you are twisting someone’s arm into volunteering, then you have the wrong view of serving. You are inviting them to be sanctified as they learn to serve like Jesus and participate in the work he is doing (Rom. 12:1–2). If you truly believe that it is for their good, your “recruiting” will turn into “inviting” and you will yield a better response.

The who

Who will lead and who is being impacted?

Get the right leader

You could have the best system in the world and the wrong leader and it will fail. Or you could have a horrible system and the right leader, and it will succeed. I am in no way advocating bad systems. I would however advocate for simple systems that allow right leader to get in place quickly, and enough flexibility to utilize their unique gifts.

Make good, strategic investments

Invest in a few key people well, rather than many people poorly. In my experience, you can only invest well into about a half a dozen people at a time before you efforts become diluted. If you try to be everything to everyone, you will exhaust yourself and/or no one will be led well. Focus on the development of a few key leaders and teach them how to lead well through your example, so they can turn around and the same.

Don’t force it

Don’t try to make the wrong leader into the right leader by doubling your effort.

If you have leaders on your team who are OK with being unreliable, mediocre, and passing the blame, address this immediately and make adjustments as necessary. You will exhaust yourself trying to be someone else’s motivation. If they are not motivated enough by Jesus, then you probably need to remove them from leadership (Col. 3:23–24). I have spent months trying to make the wrong leader work, and when I replaced the leader, things turned around almost overnight.

This said, don’t give up on the removed leader: either place them under an inspired leader, or find a different role that more adequately suits their gifts.

Don’t run from people’s lives

People are messy and amazing—usually at the same time. Don’t be afraid to get in the trenches and walk with them through their struggles (Prov. 27:23). It is ministry, after all. Remember, part of your ministry is to the volunteers themselves (Rom. 12:9–15).

Don’t make assumptions about your team

If a volunteer skips a week of volunteering, don’t just assume it’s because they are lazy, but make sure you know the whole story (Prov. 25:8). It is more about their hearts than your objective. I would suggest the following dialogue:

Leader: “Hey, I noticed you missed last week, is everything alright?”

Volunteer: “Yeah, why?”

Leader: “Oh, since you missed last week, I figured something was wrong.”

It is kind of sneaky, but it also shows you care and communicates importance.

Lead with stories of who is being changed

The church has a lot of moving parts, all serving different purposes that impact countless lives. Not everyone gets to see the harvest, and some roles are simply farming. Volunteers need to hear stories about the fruits of their labor to reinforce importance of their role.

In the next post, Brandon will address the methods of what and how.

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