Alyssa told me recently that what attracted her to our church was the sense that people are “alive and excited” about reaching out to others and making a difference in our community in the name of Christ. She had been attending a church where worship on Sunday was “as good as it gets,” but she wanted opportunities to get more involved in kingdom work. She stepped right in to help with GEMS, our girls’ program, and two years later now serves on our leadership team.
Javier, a seeker who visited on Easter Sunday, got connected with the church and God’s people when we matched his carpentry skills and servant heart with a family who needed home remodeling. Their young daughter was left paralyzed by a hit-and-run driver, and they needed wheelchair-accessible rooms. This was obviously a God-ordained connection. With tears in his eyes, Javier told us, “This is just what I’ve been looking for.”
Stories like these demonstrate why one of my favorite (yes, favorite) responsibilities as a family ministries pastor is recruiting volunteers. I never apologize for asking someone to serve in ministry because I know it’s ultimately good for their spiritual health. Even when people joke about running away when they see me approaching, or advise one another not to make eye contact with me, I don’t hesitate to continue my pursuit. Call me a stalker for God’s kingdom—with a smile.
Through the years I’ve learned some valuable lessons about helping to ensure a positive experience for those who serve in ministry.
1. Don’t wait too long to get new attendees plugged in to some type of ministry. The notable exception is asking newcomers to work with children or youths—to ensure the kids’ safety, you’ll want to get to know new people first.
There are many nonthreatening ways for newcomers to help out. They can serve a meal, set up tables, shop for supplies, pack treat bags for events, stuff mailings, decorate rooms, distribute food, and the like. This provides opportunities for new folks to get connected to the church’s mission, to begin meeting people, and to feel needed and valued.
2. Remember that not all ministry is based on giftedness. Yes, God gives us specific gifts, and we thrive when we use them to God’s glory. But is anyone really gifted to clean up spilled popcorn after movie night, change diapers in the nursery, or put labels on envelopes? I was impressed to see a fellow pastor pushing a cart of groceries to the car for a food-pantry patron. He is a highly gifted preacher, yet takes the time to serve someone in need. I will even go so far as to say that not every leader of children must have the specific gift of teaching; we can train someone to teach if they truly love children in Jesus’ name.
3. Retirees are valuable to many types of ministries. Some of our best and hardest-working volunteers are those who have retired from full-time careers to invest their time in serving God and others. They serve as elders and deacons, assist in our food pantry, walk security for children’s events, cook and serve delicious meals, care for children in the nursery, and go on youth-group mission trips. Some people who are home-bound act as prayer partners for GEMS girls. The Bible doesn’t prescribe an age for retirement from Christian service. We should never allow our seniors to fade from active participation in ministry.
4. Delegation is not “dumping.” When we recruit people to partner with us in ministry, we need to make sure we don’t just unload a job on them and walk away. They must be equipped with resources and training, encouraged along the way, and shown adequate appreciation for their time and loving efforts. When volunteers sense that things are well organized and that we notice what they are doing and how well they do it (or at least how hard they are trying), they will more likely come back and do it again. People are serving God, not us, but they still need to feel valued by God’s people.
5. Watch for danger signs. While serving God can stimulate our spiritual growth, service cannot stand alone. We must ensure that those who are giving are also receiving—otherwise their well may run dry. They should be participating in worship and a Bible study or small group—even the ministry group can serve as a small group for those working side by side in a program. We must also be sensitive to someone who is “burning out” in a particular role and help them move seamlessly into another opportunity. People who say they need to “take a break” from ministry too easily drop out completely.
The bottom line is this: anyone who recruits and nurtures volunteers in ministry has a tremendous privilege. We can usher people into an experience of making their life count, of plugging into a purpose greater than themselves. We can help build a healthy and vibrant church whose members grow in faith as they work side by side in God’s service. No apologies needed!