Developing Potential Leaders Starts with You

In my mad search for directors and teachers for Sunday School, I found a winner and enlisted her right away.  Things didn’t quite go as planned though. Here is a play by play of the decline in morale of the promising teacher.

Beginning of the year:

  • Excited and wanting ideas
  • Needed more teachers
  • Always on time and prepared
  • Smiled and radiated joy
  • Worked in children’s events and on committees
  • Gave it her best shot

Middle of the year:

  • Enthusiasm began waning
  • Began to have a look of defeat
  • Made less time for meetings
  • Started dropping hints of quitting

End of the Year

  • Lost her joy in serving
  • Resigned when she fulfilled the year commitment

She shared some responsibility, but I have full ownership for the outcome of this particular teacher.  We wrestle with keeping volunteers happy and productive as well as motivated and connected.  Leadership Development is about an outcome.  Jesus, through His ministry, showed us an incredible model of investing in and developing leaders. So how can we develop potential leaders?  We have to build the foundation, just like Jesus did.

Make It Mean Something

Churches cannot hire everyone so we are driven to hunt for volunteers.  As a volunteer, I asked myself, “Why am I serving?”  There are many reasons why people volunteer. “I want to serve Jesus.” “I love kids.” “I have so much fun.” “I want them to accept Christ.”  Like most people, I spend my week in meetings, pleasing my employer, helping churches and other employees.  I look forward to being in the classroom with the kids – making a difference in their lives.  The main reason people choose to volunteer is, “It brings meaning to my life.”  People with this as their motivation are potential leaders who are ready to serve.

Volunteers want to do something that is meaningful!  People who are looking for a meaningful experience want you to give a clear and compelling purpose.  Happy volunteers are crystal clear on their ministry’s purpose.  They can tell you not only why their ministry group exists, but also why it is important. For an important cause, leaders will give unselfishly and thank you for it.

Involve Volunteers as Much as Possible

If you miss this, you will drive your volunteers nuts!  On one hand, volunteers are busy and juggling multiple priorities.  On the other hand, they desperately want to have input into the direction and development of the ministry.  Simply donating funds or following staff-made plans fail to excite long-term motivation.  Leadership Teams that start with a blank paper and listen to the heart of the minister and then to each other’s hearts will develop a collaborative vision and plan for the future as a team.

Don’t Waste Their Time

Our volunteers develop a sensitive nose for the hopelessly under-resourced project.  Nothing leads to starving projects like the failure to prune the ministry project list.

We can become leaders who are trying to staff and support too many ministry projects.  Some of these sub-ministries simply need to be eliminated.  Call it good church hygiene.  Regularly take a look at each project and decide if it can be resourced or reshaped or discontinued.  When all sub-ministries run dangerously close to the bone, volunteers become less motivated.  Maybe you need a “Stop Doing” list as much as you need a “To Do” list.

Celebrate With Meaningful Moments

I have celebrated my volunteers with a meal where I told them how I felt about the ministry and about their sacrifice to make a difference.  I have hosted many meetings in my home, never forgetting to appreciate each person and share my heart for the ministry being done.  I have recognized people from the pulpit, during deacon’s meetings, at finance meetings, and especially during meetings where children were present and could love on them. It is easy to brag about people to their family and friends.  Take the time to do it!

Stop Hogging the Ball

Any ball player knows how fun it is to play with a “ball hog” (sarcasm implied).  That player is silently communicating he doesn’t trust you to do something good with the ball.  Eventually, you just want to sit down.  How often do you really entrust your volunteers with doing the most important part of ministry?

I can remember wanting to take a part of a ministry that I was well equipped to do and in which I had many years of experience. I volunteered only to hear, “No, I would rather you not be responsible for it but you can do most of the work. Just clear everything through me before you do anything.”  I was very disappointed, unmotivated, disliked the project, disliked the leader, felt second rate or not good enough, and desperately wanted to quit.  All of these feelings surfaced because the leader chose to be a “Ball Hog!”  Are you being a “Ball Hog” with anything?  Try being the coach and a cheerleader.

Using these five methods will empower your volunteers and give them the staying power so that they can have satisfaction in their respective roles. Your satisfaction, your journey has come from pouring your life into your ministry.  Our volunteers can’t see that far down the road. We have to support and assist them until they too begin to see the fruition of their efforts.

What are some specific ways that you can begin to celebrate meaningful moments with your volunteers?

Are you being a “Ball Hog?” What tasks do you need to entrust to your volunteers now?

by Mark Jones