Leading volunteers, Part 2: How and what

Brandon Andersen » Church Church Leadership Wisdom Stewardship

What is it that we’re doing as we raise up volunteers? And, how do we lead them effectively?

The key to healthy volunteer ministry is to find the balance between caring for the volunteers themselves and training them for their service. In Brandon’s first post, we looked at the why and who of leading. In today’s post, we’ll look at the implementation questions of what and how.

The why comes before the how and what

They only reason anyone is volunteering at your church is because Jesus changed his or her heart. You are just stewarding and leading those whom God has gifted you. If you think it is because of how great a leader you are, you will rely on self and effort—and that will not get you far. Ask yourself this: When you are facing challenges or when you can’t seem to recruit more volunteers, are you doubling you efforts, or going to prayer? If prayer isn’t even on the radar, you functionally believe that your leadership is the answer rather than God’s leading (Luke 10:2)—a precarious place to be.

Once you’ve got Jesus dialed in as the why for all you do, then, and only then, look at the what and the how.

What are you doing as you raise up volunteers?

You’re promoting a culture of ownership

If you are stepping into a ministry role, step one is to build a core team who take their roles as seriously as you do. Hopefully, over time the whole team will have the same commitment as the core team, and ownership has been established. No one person can ensure that everything is done well—it needs to be a team of people working together being faithful with what they have been given.

Avoid doing their job for them, or they will end up expecting you to. You can and should be quick to help and guide, but the ownership needs to stay on the volunteer so expectations remain crystal clear.


You’re expecting excellence

Serving the church is important. Serving people is important. People meeting Jesus is important (Mark 10:43–45). Allowing for poor quality gives the opposite message. You don’t need to apologize for expecting that volunteers serve Jesus well.

How should you lead volunteers?

Be building friendships

Volunteering at church is not like your job; everyone you work with is your brother or sister in Christ. It is wholly appropriate and encouraged to build relationships with the volunteers you are leading as you are all part of the body. The best volunteer teams have a sense of community, or even family—just make sure that it stays an open community for all who would like to join.


Show you care

The best volunteers are joy-filled and fearless. When volunteers know that you care more about them personally than about everything running perfectly, they feel safe to flourish and want to follow you. If it becomes more about the operational objectives than about the people, you risk your volunteers becoming fearful and joyless, at which point they’ll often want to leave.


Don’t treat volunteers like hired hands

Volunteers are humble servants who have been transformed by Jesus to participate in the mission of the church. They are not minions; they are not staff serving under obligation (1 Pet. 5:2–3). Their service should humble you and fill you with gratitude (Phil. 2:3–4). Thank them constantly and sincerely.


Lead with clarity

An astounding number of projects fail due to lack of clarity. In this case, the burden of responsibility usually falls on the leadership, not the volunteer. If volunteers know with absolute clarity exactly what is expected, they rarely decide not to follow through. With more success comes more opportunity to lead through encouragement, rather than correction.

Encourage each leader to use their gifts

Every leader is at their best, and most joyful, when they are using the gifts God has given them. Don’t force them into a mold, or expect that they would lead the same way you do. Recognize where they are most gifted and help them maximize those gifts. For example, some can lead from a platform, others through 1-on-1 conversations. Some lead through creating detailed systems, others through finding people who like systems so they can focus on people. The balance is always providing adequate support without suffocating their gifts (Rom. 12:6–8).


Correct with vision before rebuke

Here is a process for how to proceed if a volunteer needs correction:

1.    Start with vision. Communicate the vision and importance of the role they are doing.

2.   Ask them if they believe that their volunteer role matters. If yes, ask them to recommit and set up clear expectations of what that looks like. If no, then there may be some heart issues that need addressing. It will take wisdom and discernment on behalf the leader to work through this. Don’t be afraid to remove them from their role, usually that is the best long-term decision.

Reserve rebuke for rebellion. This means, if a volunteer knows exactly what to do, why he or she does it, has been extended grace by their leaders, and still willingly chooses to let the mission of the church suffer, then a loving rebuke is warranted. Make sure this is done in person; heart doesn’t transfer well through writing.


Always be training

If you are doing your job well, your volunteers and leaders will be growing, and will eventually move on to more leadership opportunities. Build ongoing training and recruiting cycles into your calendar year so you a never left forced to drop everything to find more volunteer and leaders. You will have to train eventually, so you might as well do it on your schedule.


Always have an apprentice

In ministry, the most indispensable people are those who can work themselves out of a job, which can seem a little counterintuitive. But if a ministry is going to grow and expand, then it’s critical that leaders are building up people to step in and fill in roles as they move up or on. Therefore, job number one for a new leader is to find an apprentice. This will help them establish their core team, and develop the mindset of not trying to do everything themselves.

Check out Brandon’s first post in this series, on the why and who of leading volunteers.

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