Home » Equipping » The Trouble With Volunteers

The Trouble With Volunteers

By far, the biggest challenge I hear when speaking to ministry leaders is the difficulty–if not near impossibility–in getting enough volunteers. People continually talk about how they just don’t have time to add one more thing to a calendar that already makes their head swim! (An interesting paradox is the number of people who glory in producing a calendar that has no white space…but that’s fodder for another post!)

As full-time ministry leaders, we are often guilty of forgetting that our volunteers have their own full-time jobs to think about. They don’t eat, sleep, and drink “church” like we do. We get really jazzed about some great new ministry idea or a new and improved process for an existing ministry, and then can’t understand why no one is jumping at the chance to get on board. “Why not? Can’t they see that this is a Holy Spirit-inspired idea?”, we ask. Probably not; they are more likely thinking about their employer’s latest “great idea” and how they have been told to get on board with it–their paycheck depends on it. I have to regularly tell myself to just lighten up!

The trouble with volunteers is that they’ve been equipped to be volunteers.

We need to change our paradigm. When equipping people, we need to no longer try to get them to do something else or something more. Too many already have little to no margin in their lives. What’s Christ-like about increasing their frustration by guilting them into being at church another night a week or serving at the homeless shelter every other weekend, even if it is in the name of Christ? Honestly, this is not equipping people for ministry. It’s equipping them to be volunteers.

But what happens when we re-frame ministry in such a way that our people see it as bringing back to Jesus what they are already doing?

As Christians, our fundamental vocation is to glorify God. We come together to offer ourselves and creation, through the Spirit and with Jesus, to God. This is what we are created to do. When we see what we do during our everyday lives as an offering to God, we all in a sense become priests offering the Eucharist, and this blesses and sanctifies our work.

Framing equipping in the context of vocation doesn’t mean that we get less volunteers, we simply bring serving into its proper context and make it meaningful…not to mention understanding it rightly as sanctified by God. When people begin to see all of life as ministry and ministry as all of life, they are no longer volunteers. They are ministers, priests bringing their life as an offering to God. It’s no longer about adding tasks to an already-full calendar. It’s about who they are every day of their lives.

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