I still remember the day I changed my strategy for recruiting and training volunteers. It was a cold winter morning in 1987, and I had just accepted a new position as a children’s pastor at a church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I was frustrated because yet another volunteer had informed me he was stepping down. And, like most children’s pastors, I was one of the last ones to leave the building.
This memorable day, my pity party was approaching epic proportions when I bumped into the head usher, Phil. When I saw Phil, I thought, “I wish I had the people that Phil has on his team.” It seemed to me that the best men in the church were already volunteering as ushers.
I heard that still small voice ask, “Why don’t you talk to Phil? Maybe he knows something that you don’t know.”
I explained my problem to Phil, and then I asked, “What do you do if everybody wants to quit, and it starts a domino effect?” Phil looked at me with his patented, incontestable gaze and stated, “We don’t let our people quit.”
“You mean they are in for life?” I asked.
I think Phil was just trying to get my attention. He went on to explain what he meant, “I find when people get involved in serving at church, they stay in church. The reverse is also true. If people don’t get involved in ministry, they end up leaving the church. I don’t like losing good people, but more importantly, I want them to stay connected to the church. If somebody wants to quit, I always ask: ‘What ministry are you going to serve in next?’ If they don’t know, I stay connected to them until they either come back to the usher ministry or hook up with another ministry.”
A light turned on.
To ask someone to serve in church is in his or her best interest.
Phil wasn’t just trying to get something out of people. He really cared about the spiritual wellbeing of his team. Phil was doing something that I didn’t know how to do. He was pastoring his volunteers.
Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
1 Peter 5:2,3 nasb
Peter offers us three steps needed for pastoring volunteers:
1. Be an example to your volunteers.
A good leader never expects from his followers what he doesn’t first expect from himself. I find it surprising how many kidmin pastors never participate in the main service or sit under their pastors’ ministry.
Your volunteers are watching your example.
When you are traveling with your children, what do the flight attendants tell you to do if the oxygen masks appear above you? Do you put the mask on your child first? No, you put on your mask first, and then you help your child. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t have any life left to minister to your child.
The same is true in ministry.
Ministry is so busy that I have to fight for my time to attend church, read the Word, and spend quality time in prayer; but if I don’t do it, I won’t have anything to give to my leaders.
2. Get a vision for each volunteer.
Think about some of your key volunteers. Where do you see them a year from now? Do you see them always doing the same thing, or can they grow into new positions? Do you see them overcoming their weaknesses?
As I am writing this, I am thinking about a young man named Bill who started volunteering when he was twelve years old. I saw that Bill was creative and had a gift for puppetry. I asked him to join our outreach team. He traveled with us to do kids’ crusades at other churches. Bill loved it and was a real asset to the team.
Bill also had some negative qualities. Sometimes he was cocky, which came off as disrespectful, when he would talk to adults; but I never gave up on Bill. Some of the church leaders would say things like, “Why do you take Bill with you on the road? I couldn’t stand being with him for five whole days.”
When I resigned four years later, Bill was six- teen years old, and people were saying, “That Bill sure has a lot to offer.”
A good leader is someone who knows how to see the gifts in others when there is little to be seen on the surface. Ask God to show you how to develop individual gifts in others and, in doing so, you will get a vision for each volunteer.
3. Feed your volunteers.
I’m not talking about coffee and donuts. I’m talking about ministering to your volunteers.
Jesus told us to go into all of the world and make disciples of all nations (see Matt. 28:19). The word disciple means a taught or trained one.
We can’t only train volunteers. We have to feed them the good Word of God.
If kidmin pastors would pour themselves into their volunteers with the same passion they pour themselves into their kids, they wouldn’t have any recruiting problems.
The spiritual growth of your kids is limited to the spiritual growth of those volunteers that are ministering to them.