Principle #6 – Staff serve volunteers, volunteers are not there to serve the staff. Volunteers are not there for the benefit of the staff, but the staff exist to equip and enable the body of Christ to carry out her ministry.
Do you remember the song “Onward Christian Soldiers”? It’s a militaristic song calling Christians to battle all that opposes God. I think churches have moved on from that song, but perhaps still see themselves as having an army of volunteers. The pastor or ministry leader is the general and the volunteers are the infantry – the fodder to be sacrificed – in the battle. I know churches still that do not care about volunteer burn out, gifting, passions or interests. They just need a warm body to do the job until they drop. The only problem is we can’t do a military draft and force people to serve (and I don’t want to do that!)
The other view I’ve seen is more of an employee/employer relationship. The volunteer is seen as a free employee who can do whatever the ministry leader wants. The pastor/leader is the boss and the volunteer is the employee. The only problem here is that employees have a motivation – a paycheque – and our volunteers lack that incentive.
So what is the image/model that works? I think there’s a biblical model that is highly effective. The idea of shepherd and flock of sheep. The sheep don’t exist to employ the shepherd. The shepherd exists to care for and protect the sheep. In case you’re missing it – the sheep are the volunteers and the ministry leader/pastor the shepherd.
The point? As ministry leaders/pastors if we think the volunteers are there for us we are so far off track. The sheep exist for their owner – in this case Jesus who is the Good Shepherd. The shepherd is entrusted with them and asked to care for them. That means when working with volunteers we are entrusted with the body of Christ and to care for them on Christ’s behalf. We are their servants. Our job is not to use them for our benefit, but to invest ourselves into our volunteers so they can thrive and be healthy as they serve Jesus in ministry.
How does this help recruit? If you build a culture where you serve those serving in ministry word gets around. People realize you’re not using them but caring for them. When you explain to potential volunteers you’re role and have people who can attest you do that it changes the game for those who are considering serving.
Our world is all about having power. Leading a ministry can become a power trip. Rather than seek power though, empower those who are volunteering under your care. Serve the volunteers, rather than have them serve you.