Let’s face it, in ministry we are often limited by our resources. We don’t have enough time, enough money and enough staff to accomplish everything we’d like to. Some churches choose to let that stop them. Others are diligent about fostering an environment where volunteers are essential partners in making ministry happen.
The double blessing is that volunteers are empowered, and grow in their faith, and more/better ministry happens. How do you maximize the staff/volunteer relationship? In this two-part series, we’ll take a look at how to make it happen by examining the way we approach language, respect, gratitude, visioning and relationship building.
First off, it may be time to adopt better language for our “volunteers”. At Ginghamsburg UMC where I got my start in ministry and where I now serve in an unpaid roll, the word “volunteer” isn’t used. Lead Pastor Mike Slaughter often says that, “Volunteers is the language of the club – volunteers serve at the convenience of their schedules and when it’s comfortable. Servant is the language of the Kingdom – a servant serves when the King calls regardless of their schedules or comfort level” The moniker used at Ginghamsburg for those in service is that of “unpaid servant”. “Unpaid servant” carries a much different tone than volunteer – one that implies a deeper dedication for a deeper purpose.
Unpaid servants that give of their time deserve respect from those of us in paid roles. While we never intend it, unpaid servants are sometimes treated as second-class citizens. Not everyone is called to fulltime ministry. Being paid to do ministry doesn’t make the efforts of service any more holy or valuable. I believe leaders sometimes lose site of this.
The role of the leader is to partner with servants to achieve great things. However, what sometimes happens, is leaders treat servants as flunkies whose purpose is to carry out tasks they don’t have time for or don’t want to do.
The number one way that leaders disrespect unpaid servants is in the failure to preplan. Those in unpaid roles who are giving of their time cannot react with the same degree of speed and attentiveness that those in paid rolls can. Asking for something late in the week for the weekend may create unneeded stress and frustration.
We’ve all heard tales of late night Google searches for music, graphics, video clips and obscure illustrations that make it into a presentation in the wee hours. This adds stress and detracts from sleep. For many of the servants I meet at seminars, this is the weekly norm. It doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be. Planning ahead by even by a week or two alleviates mounds of stress, and ultimately makes for better worship.
The second instance where well-intentioned leaders can disrespect servants is in their overuse. Unpaid servants serve because they want to, but as time goes on, a fine line can form between choice and obligation.
Leaders can’t help but be drawn to faithful, quality servants. When a leader knows a servant is dependable, they can begin to lean on them too heavily. This is the path to burnout.
If a leader is forced to use the same servants all the time, their team isn’t deep enough.
The third area of where leaders unintentionally show disrespect to their unpaid servants is in poor communication. When leaders ask their servants to participate in any way, in any aspect of the worship, they must remain committed to two-way communication.
Objectives that may seem clear to the leader may not be clear to the servant. When questions arise, the unpaid servant may need to connect with the leader via email, text or by phone. Ministry life is busy for those in leadership, and while leaders may not be available at every moment, email, texts and voicemail are great tools for asynchronous communication. Responses, even if brief, help clarify responsibilities and address questions that arise. Taking time to respond also show unpaid servants that the leader appreciates and respects their time.
For example, if a media director asks a servant to create a video for worship and has an initial conversation about direction and what is needed, the two might leave thinking there is an understanding about the piece. If the servant has 10 hours to give during the week (say 2 hours per night), and the next day they have follow up questions but the media director doesn’t respond for a day or two, the servant has lost 2 to 4 hours of valuable time. This puts the servant in the position of having to scramble to do more each day than originally budgeted. It could also mean that the video suffers because it is done in less time, or it could also mean the video doesn’t get finished at all. This puts both the leader and the servant in an awkward position.
The motivations of a servant aren’t compensation, glory or reward. It is nice however to be intentional about expressing gratitude for the contributions servants make in ministry.
Many unpaid servants work behind the scenes, and most are very comfortable in that place. They aren’t looking for recognition, but they do want to know that their work is of value. Public recognition isn’t required, but is a great way to express thanks, highlight the ministries of the church, and is always good for putting smiles on faces.
Public recognition might be as simple as the pastor mentioning an individual or ministry group in a sermon. It might also involve inviting servants in a certain ministry to stand for a quick handclap. Recognition might also be as complex as having a “Servant Appreciation Dinner” where staff/leadership serve the servants.
Other ways leaders can express gratitude to servants include hand written cards, personal phone calls, and other token gifts. If your church has a café or bookstore, offering a free coffee or gift certificate would be a very nice way to express gratitude for ongoing service.
One note on personal articles such as thank you cards and notes: they should really come from the leader, rather than the church secretary or an assistant. The more personal and specific they are, the better. Sending a carbon copy with a signature doesn’t have the same effect and may even have the opposite effect than desired.
These simple to implement ideas can take the leader/servant relationship to the next level. In the next post, we’ll look at the importance of and strategies for visioning and relationship building. (514)