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So that We Might be Illuminated, Jesus was Stained

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How to Better Lead Volunteers part 1

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.


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The Tremendous Staying Power of Image

What was the most memorable experience you’ve ever had in worship? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask at a Creative Worship seminar. It’s fun to see people stop and think about it, then discuss it with their peers.

What I have encountered consistently over the past several years as I’ve asked that question, is that the most memorable worship experiences often revolve around images, metaphors or tangible objects. Being an advocate for such things for the past 15 years, that doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but I’m still learning how to better articulate the value of image in worship.

I’m convinced that using images in tandem with the spoken and written word is the single best way to create staying power for the messages we present in worship. While catchy titles and thematic slogans are good in the short term, they don’t have the same staying power as images. It should be stated that not all images are created equally – abstract “eye-candy” or what we call “holy blobs of color” can be pretty, but not carry a message long term.

Of course there is a danger in using images; they require require setup, are often ambiguous, contain multiple potential interpretations and must be deconstructed in order to properly convey deep truth. But when that work is done, and the gospel is properly conveyed through image, it has the power to last forever.

In the mid 90s, I served as part of the worship design team and media staff at a large Methodist church in Ohio called Ginghamsburg. Ten years after I left, I returned to work as an unpaid servant on their worship design team. Very quickly I was reminded again of the tremendous staying power of image.

In the first few weeks of “being back” I ran into people I’d done ministry with in paid and unpaid roles and a common pattern quickly developed. Nearly every person I talked to had a story from 10 years ago about their most memorable worship experience. Every single one of them without exception was tied to metaphor (which we were doing weekly at the time). What’s even more impressive to me is that key details and message ideas were also part of some of the conversations.

At Midnight Oil seminars, Len Wilson and I tell the story of designing worship with a pastor friend of ours named Adrian Cole. Adrian was a guest preacher one weekend at Ginghamsburg when we were on staff. Six years after that experience, Len and I were invited to speak at Adrian’s church. We hadn’t seen him since that worship design experience 6 years prior. When we greeted each other, we began reminiscing and our conversation shifted to the work we’d done together so many years ago.

When we began to describe in detail of the service and his sermon, which used the metaphor of a half finished sculpture, Adrian stopped us and said, “How on earth do you remember that? It was my sermon, and I don’t remember that.” We responded by saying, “That’s the power of image.” We’ll never forget the sermon about how our journey toward christian perfection is like the process of chipping away at a block of granite until the complete image emerges. I’ll also never forget the image of Adrian on the back of an elephant and the stories of his days in seminary and how God was chipping away at him even then. I’ll never look at a statue and not think of and reflect on the power of that message. Image has the ability to encapsulate ideas that can be carried to the grave.

Another favorite example I use when teaching is rooted in the description of a movie trailer. I ask, “Who can name the movie trailer that featured ripples timed to ‘booms’ within a cup of water sitting on the dashboard of an SUV?” Within seconds shouts from all over the room roar, “Jurassic Park!” You can see that trailer here.

I am regularly amazed that so many people get it right within seconds of the question being posed. I respond by saying, “I didn’t say anything about dinosaurs, DNA, Michael Crichton or anything that would tip you off and you instantly knew from that one image the story I was describing.”

Think about that for a minute. If that one image gets you to Jurassic Park, and you know the movie, that image carries with it the complete narrative of the story, the environments and scenes, the characters and other details that you likely could describe with very little effort.

That trailer came out in the fall of 1992. Without fail, every single group I speak to knows the clip instantly. Can you imagine what would happen in the church if every week in worship you had an image that could carry that much information (characters, story, settings etc) for 19 years and beyond? I can. I’ve seen it in action, and it is exciting.

In my book Digital Storytellers (co-authored with Len Wilson) I wrote, “Art is the discovery of discipleship.” I believe that with my whole heart. When worshipers have a powerful God encounter that is creative and tied to image, that moment lives on and drives worshipers toward deeper personal faith development and world changing mission. It sears truth into the hearts and minds of those who are engaged by it. Maybe that’s why Jesus used metaphor exclusively when teaching in public.

How are you using images to make the message stick around beyond Sunday?


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Hollywood Writers’ Series – Part 4 with Jeffrey Berman


Jeffrey Berman is a mover and a shaker. When he’s not writing feature films for the likes of Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, or The Walt Disney Studio, he’s interviewing writers for his series entitled, “The Write Environment.” Jeff also works as a producer.

I’ve worked with Jeff quite a bit over the last few years, and I must say, it’s a real joy to collaborate with him. I asked Jeff if he’d be a part of this blog series, and he said he was game.


1. Jeff, thanks for being a part of this project. You’ve been writing and producing in Hollywood for years. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a couple of your projects. What is the most challenging thing about putting together a production team, and what do you look for in the people you choose?
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Hollywood Writers’ Series – Part 3 with Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia


Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia are a dynamic duo of awesomeness.

These writing partners of eight years have written and produced many series including Judging Amy, Jericho, Warehouse 13, Human Target, and Charlie’s Angels. They’re currently in development on a cable pilot as well as a Zorro re-boot for Sony.

They are highly respected by their peers, and their talent has kept them consistently working from the early days of their partnership.

A few years ago I got to know Matt and Steve when they were working on the episodic television series Jericho. A couple of years later I got to work with them as a designer on a pilot they had in development, and I must say, it’s truly exciting to experience their collaborative process in real time.

On a side note, and to further reinforce the notion that it is indeed a small world, Steve grew up only a short drive down the interstate from where I grew up, and while we didn’t know it at the time, we competed in high school marching band competitions. Anyway, on to more interesting things!

1. Guys, thanks for agreeing to participate in this series. When breaking a story in the writers’ room, the writing staff has to come to a consensus. Does being a writing team give you any advantages when breaking a story? I know you don’t take a vote, but do two voices help if you’re on the same side as an idea? Or do you really function as individuals in the room?
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