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Called or Cajoled?

“I’m done.”

Those words can ruin a ministry leader’s day when they come from a committed, competent volunteer. I’ve heard them and, if you’ve been leading volunteers for awhile, I bet you’ve heard them, too.

A few years ago, one of our most dependable team leaders went to his staff leader and said those dreaded words, “I’m done.” Bob had faithfully led the newcomer team for a couple of years, during which time the staff leader had to take an extended medical leave. Bob was present at every newcomer event, gracefully coordinated all the newcomer activities, and efficiently led the newcomer ministry team in the staff leader’s absence. He was a gem–his team liked and respected him, and that dependability factor was impressive.

No amount of cajoling could change his mind. How could he quit? Why would he quit?

Interestingly, for the six months or so prior to him uttering those dreaded words, God had been doing a new thing in Bob’s life. No one knew. His staff leader was overwhelmed with trying to get back into the groove after her medical leave. Because Bob was a gifted leader, his team didn’t sense a shift in his priorities. My role as the director of volunteer ministries  was that of a generalist, so I was too far removed from the situation to be aware. But God had been birthing a new passion in Bob’s heart, and he was hearing God calling him to a new ministry.

As Bob told me about this new passion, it was perfectly obvious that God was at the heart of it. Bob had become increasingly aware of the plight of the homeless in our city, particularly the need for shelter during the cold winter months. He had researched what other cities were doing and one ministry in particular had caught his interest. God had captured his heart and there was no denying God’s new call on Bob’s life.  Bob shifted his volunteer ministry to the outreach team, where he was released to pursue the thrill of God’s new call. To make a long story short, Bob became the director of a ministry which coordinates several churches in our city who provide shelter, a hot meal, a shower, and Christian friendship to homeless men during the winter months. It’s been an amazing adventure!

Here are three take-aways from my experience with Bob:

  1. A critical function of our role as ministry leaders is to help volunteers discern their ministry niche, not fit them into ours. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ to do the good works God has prepared for us to do. We should provide effective tools that enable volunteers to define God’s call on their life.
  2. Stay close enough to see when the call is taking a new direction. God is constantly doing new things! He gives new gifts, stirs up new interests, provides new life experiences from which one can minister. We need to have regular, intentional conversations with our volunteers to be sure that the the seeds of new ministry planted in their heart aren’t missed.
  3. Don’t fear the new thing God is doing. Never cajole a volunteer into serving when the call is shifting. God will fill the gap–or allow the old ministry to die. It is, after all,  his work!

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