Karl Vaters on 10 Principles to Get the Best From Volunteer Church Leaders

Image: Kristina Paparo | Unsplash

Volunteer leaders are the backbone of the church.

This is true in churches of all sizes, but especially in small churches which may be led exclusively by volunteers.

After all, volunteers can quit at any time. And when they do, it actually frees up more of their spare time. So we need to give them good reasons to stick around.

Here are 10 of them:

1. Tell Them Why

The days when church leaders did what they were supposed to do merely from a sense of obligation are gone. Good riddance.

People – especially leaders – want to know why something needs to be done. And they should know. Leaders can’t lead without knowing why.

Oh sure, you can get away without explanations for a while, or on small projects. But for the big things – the things that matter – good leaders want and need to know why.

When leaders know why they’re doing something and buy into that reason, not only will they give more of themselves to it, they can lead others in it. It also allows them create great ideas that can make a good idea even better. Now that’s good leadership!

2. Listen More than You Talk

Pastors and preachers are taught how to speak. But we’re seldom taught how to listen.

As a pastor, I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. (I know, it’s not much of a stretch). I want people around me who know more about their area of expertise than I do. Pastors who do all the talking don’t get smart volunteers, they get mindless followers. They might attract crowds, but they don’t make disciples.

When church leaders know that their ideas, concerns and feelings are being heard, they make stronger commitments to God, to the church and to other leaders. And they become better disciples, leaders and disciple-makers.

3. Over-Communicate

The flip side of listening is making sure you communicate well – and often.

It’s been said that when the pastor feels like the mission/vision of the church is being over-communicated, that’s when many people are probably starting to really hear it for the first time.

That principle doesn’t just apply to vision, but to process, methods, ministries, schedules – you name it.

As pastors, most of us live with church events 24/7, so it’s easy to forget that the church schedule – and even the church’s mission – is not nearly as front-and-center in the lives of our volunteer leaders as it is in ours. Even our most dedicated people will forget that “essential” meeting if they don’t get an extra phone call, text, Tweet, email or Facebook reminder.

When something matters, it can never be said enough.

4. Be Patient

Volunteer church leaders are working for the church and its ministries during whatever small openings they can find in their schedule. A schedule that includes work, school, child-rearing, family crises, financial stress and more.

They’re studying, praying and preparing after the kids are finally fed and asleep, the house is semi-clean and the dishes are still piled up in the sink. Instead of relaxing in front of the TV, they’re opening up Sunday School curriculum (or something else they have to prepare for) and getting ready to give the church several hours that, quite frankly, they really don’t have time for.

If they don’t get everything right the first time they do something (or the fifth), don’t jump down their throat or threaten to take them out of leadership, help them do it better next time.

Many volunteer leaders quit, not because they don’t care, but because they get less hassle from the pastor when they “show up and shut up” than when they step up and try to help.

Recognize their sacrifice and be patient if the way they do it isn’t perfect. After all, you’ve never done it perfectly yet, either.

Yes, I know the above description of a church leader’s day sounds like the life of a lot of small church pastors, too. Especially if you’re bivocational. Give yourself a break from perfection, too.

5. Be Forgiving

People make mistakes. I do. You do. Your volunteer leaders do.

The only way to not make mistakes is not to do anything – which is a big mistake.

Be grateful for people’s efforts and forgiving of their failures. Then work with them to give them the tools to do it better the next time.

In our church, we tell people that if they work in an area of ministry, only to discover it’s not the right fit for them, they can quit at any time, guilt-free. When people know their mistakes aren’t fatal, they’ll step up more often.

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Source: Christianity Today