Kathy is a nurse and last week I heard her tell a group of people that her interview to serve in our kid ministry was more intense than any job interview she’s ever had. I smiled, as I heard this, glad she knows that what she is doing has great value.
Sometimes we get stuck thinking that any warm body will do. I just need someone to (fill in the blank). We try to make it sound easy and low commitment because we just need someone, like now. We’ve all been there. But when this becomes our long-term approach, it could mean that our needs are greater than our vision. When this is what we are looking for, this is what we will get. People will rise to the level of expectation, but when it comes to volunteers, we often lower the bar and stay in a cycle of frustration. As I watch leaders I respect, here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. Invite people to be part of a vision, not fill a hole.
“Hole” is equivalent to a bad word when intentionally leading people. Being a small group leader for fourth grade boys, making our guests feel welcome, leading someone to their seat, serving coffee, helping someone find a parking space… These aren’t holes. These are opportunities. Places where people can serve others. Ways that we can work together, tethered to a bigger vision. This isn’t just another way of saying the same thing- it’s a completely different mindset. Inviting someone to serve is inviting them to be like Jesus, and Jesus didn’t fill a hole, He changed everything.
2. Make feedback a normal part of being on your team.
If someone is knocking it out of the park, let him or her know. If you see more in them, call them up. If someone is lacking the enthusiasm they once had, let them know that they don’t seem like themselves. All of these conversations require relationship. Maybe someone on the team has more bandwidth for this than you do – unleash them! When feedback is a normative part of team culture it fosters inviting people into bigger roles as well as creates equity for the difficult conversations that are par for the course in staying on mission. Keep raising the bar and giving feedback along the way.
3. Recognize that not everyone who is on the team now will be on the team tomorrow.
Maybe it becomes obvious that they’ve been serving with you to check the box. Maybe it makes them feel good. As we walk with people, we journey and lead, we encourage and call up, we hope and pray, we invite and we hold a mirror. Sometimes that mirror shows that they are just along for their own benefit; they are just there because it feels good to tell others they serve at church. And when they see this, they turn away. They missed what it means to serve. They like the smell of the bread but they don’t ever eat it. Maybe you learn that they are making some decisions right now that necessitate a season off. Off boarding is part of leading.
Remember near the end of John 6 when people turned their back and no longer walked with Jesus? He didn’t chase them or beg them to stay. If Jesus is love, then letting people walk away must fall under the banner of love. There are times when I’ve tried to play God in these moments only to realize that I looked nothing like God in these moments. God is big and we can trust Him in their lives, even when they walk away.
See people for who they can be, invite them on a journey, raise the bar, guide them in finding their best selves – that which is still ahead for all of us.