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Volunteers
As leaders and teachers, we have a way we like to work, while our volunteers have a way they like to learn.

Deeper Levels for Your Volunteers

To bring volunteers from the basics to the deeper levels of a ministry, they must be committed to the spiritual and cultural ideals of your congregation.

Taking a volunteer from a basic understanding to a deeper level is one of the greatest challenges in technical ministry, or any ministry.

Faith is the Bible’s answer to fear. “Be not afraid” appears as many as 365 times in most bible translations.

To make connections that last, we need a combination of personal relationship, clear instructions, and church culture. Simultaneously, we must not be afraid to ask for what we need, even at the risk of our comfort.

Since fear can get in the way of any of these other steps, dealing with team anxiety is a great place to start.

Faith Over Fear

Acting out of fear is the biggest hindrance to any ministry team that I’ve worked with over the past 16 years of ministry.

Fear can take many forms: The panic that will arise that if my current volunteers quit, the ministry will stop; the anxiety of putting in too many hours, at the expense of work or home life; a general fear of dealing with people on a personal level. Each of these manifests by putting limitations on us as leaders.

Looking at just one scenario, if you are concerned that losing your volunteers will cripple your team, fear can lead to compromising values. For example, if the team is showing up at the last moment and not preparing to serve properly, fear can stop a leader from having the simple conversation about arriving on time.

In a more extreme case, a team member who is a gossip, a complainer, and sows the seeds of unrest among others on a team is nonetheless tolerated, for fear of losing their skill. 

Faith is the Bible’s answer to fear. “Be not afraid” appears as many as 365 times in most bible translations. We are called to trust in God daily, leaning not on our own understanding, but on His. If we are paralyzed to the point of failing to act, knowing what must be done but don’t do it, then we must ask God for wisdom on how to follow the vision that he’s laid out to our ministry, church, and pastor.

For example, if we have anxiety about finding time to do everything in ministry and in life, then we must find some small way to step out in faith and courage.

Remember you have resources all around you, starting with your pastor and fellow leaders in ministry. Get in touch with someone and get a plan of action, even if it’s small. Action gives you traction, as my pastor says.

Over the years at my church, Crossroads Community Church of Fitchburg, we’ve been able to find time by evaluating what was important to the ministry in that season. When we wanted to start a video program, we decided to discontinue our paper bulletin. That switch gave us plenty of margin in our ministry time to train volunteers and develop a rhythm for weekly video production, without adding hours to our plate.

Even small changes can help, such as cutting out or shortening some meetings.

If fear is stopping you, answer it with faith in action, even if it’s a small beginning.

Personal Relationship

As leaders and teachers, we have a way we like to work, while our volunteers have a way they like to learn. We need to speak the same language.

Ask each trainee, “How do you learn best? Do you like to read books, watch videos, or be instructed?” This information can really help you prepare the right training to develop a teammate and can be a tremendous time and energy saver for you both.

I already have a library of cool magazines, equipment manuals, newsletters, blogs, and YouTube tutorials that I can send to a team member at any time, with a few minutes of effort. If they learn better by going through this material at their own pace, then I can work on something else and simply be available to them as they work independently.

Clear Instructions

In addition to building better personal communication, I like to focus on clarity on two other levels: Our head in the sky and our feet on the ground, amounts to a clear understanding of how to think about goals and problems, as well as practical, physical instructions.

To start thinking with your head in the clouds as a team, I like to create a simple, standard operating procedure, or SOP, for each job. What that sounds like will be different for each ministry, but I suggest keeping it simple. For example, a good SOP for an audio leader is to “Always keep the vocals as clear as possible.”

As simple as that sounds, it helps the volunteer make independent choices faster. When a guitarist breaks out a thrashing solo, the audio person needs to know how mix it. With the simple standard procedure that the vocals should be as clear as possible, the audio volunteer can then choose on their own, if the guitar is making the vocals less clear, and act accordingly.

While I like simple and broad SOPs, be careful of being too subjective, i.e., “Provide excellent audio” is vague since excellence can mean many different things. Unlike the previous example, it doesn’t provide clarity on how to mix the guitar and vocals and may be more confusing than helpful.

Feet on the ground is the actual, physical steps involved in executing the SOP. “Keep vocals clear” is only useful, after all, if the volunteer knows how to run the faders and EQ.

At least at my church, I often find it helpful to prepare people with a set of skills, since we need to act fast and flexibly, but some of my colleagues write detailed, step-by-step instructions for their volunteers to follow exactly.

Whichever works for you, make sure your team doesn’t just get the vision, but can take the actions that transform the vision into real success.

Church Culture

The final lens to consider for taking a volunteer in deeper, relates to your church culture. A ministry leader certainly puts their stamp on their ministry.

In the same way, the pastor and the church also create the atmosphere that can help people get to the next level. At Crossroads, we have a set of core values. These describe how we should behave as a church. Number one is “Passionate Commitment.” In everything we do, we must approach it with enthusiasm and a focus on the finish. This isn’t just how my team acts, but how the whole church should behave.

How your church frames its vision shapes the ministries. If your vision is to be seeker-sensitive and reach out to people who have been hurt by church, then you may have a different set of priorities than a church founded on preserving the gospel message through timeless songs and readings. These are like SOPs on a church-wide scale, as they can really make a multitude of choices nearly automatic. Think of your church culture and think, “Should we have a fog machine?” and then, “Should we have a pipe organ?” For many of us, these answers are completely hardwired.

This is essential DNA for your team. To bring volunteers from the basics to the deeper levels of a ministry, they must be committed to the spiritual and cultural ideals of your congregation. A great way to do this is to be sure they are performing their “feet on the ground” actions for church life: daily bible reading and prayer, giving, regular participation at services, and attendance at special events, to name a few. This is not simply a matter of indoctrination, but ultimately the real meat and potatoes of church life:

Our volunteers are not just a labor force, they are children of God, on a journey to be more like Jesus. By involving them in church life, we can offer much more than tasks to complete and boxes to check.

By clarifying their tasks, we can allow them to focus on how they can find a place in the vision. By a developing a personal relationship, we can really communicate on deeper levels.

Go boldly into the unknown, without fear of failure, secure in the faith that through Jesus we can accomplish all things.

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