When looking for volunteers to carry out our ministries, we often swing from one extreme to the other.
On one end of the spectrum is the “they’re too busy” extreme. We think, “Our folks are so busy. I don’t know anyone who can possibly take on one more thing, so I’ll do it myself.” Or “It’s going to take me twice (at least!) as long to explain what needs to be done, so it’s a lot easier for me to do it.”
On the other end is the “we’re not picky” extreme. We minimize the work to be done by implying that just about anyone could do it. And so our announcements sound like this: “There’s a clipboard in the hallway for everyone (anyone!) to sign up to teach Sunday school this fall.” Or “We’re looking for someone (anyone?) to lead the games for VBS.” Or we grab friends in the hall to plead. Or we send the sign-up list around the Christian education committee meeting one more time. Or we fuss and fume about people who don’t “step up to the plate” to help out.
None of these approaches are helpful for the long term, nor are they biblical. The Scriptures are filled with stories of people being called to serve, and there aren’t too many mentions of clipboards in the hallway or pleads from the pulpit. God called Mary and Gideon, Samuel and Moses, the disciples, and the woman at the well with a personal invitation. To each one God said, “Come…follow me.” Burning bushes, Jesus Christ, still small voices in the night, angels, and other people. Other people? Yes! We can play that role today in the church for all those folks just waiting to hear “Come…follow me” (whether they realize it or not). We can call them to help those in need or greet newcomers to the church or visit the shut-ins or teach the fourth graders.
In the Bible we read about conversations, not announcements, and that’s where we should start too. To get to the conversation moment though, we need an intentional process of inviting people to consider a calling. At GenOn Ministries, we have taught such a relational process for decades, and it’s summarized like this:
- Help people identify their spiritual gifts. This could be accomplished through the use of an extensive inventory such as the ELCA Spiritual Gifts Assessment Tool . Or you might simply ask people what they enjoy doing and what others say they do well!
- Gather a call team together of 3-4 people who understand the ministry positions to be filled and know the people in your church.
- Identify what needs to be done. Create a ministry description that includes responsibilities, qualifications, gifts needed, term limits, and resources available.
- Discuss and prayerfully consider who might be a good match for a position and then discern who you believe God may be calling as the best match.
- Schedule a conversation with the person to invite him or her into ministry in a helpful way (not on the fly in the hallway, not in a text message);
- In your conversation, identify the gifts and passions that you’ve noticed and provide information about what you’re asking the person to do. Help the person understand that his or her name came to mind after you and other leaders spent time in prayer and discussion, not in desperation after everyone else was asked.
- Allow time for consideration, but also agree on a check-back date. Suggest that the person pray and talk with others, and be sure to connect him or her with those who have served in this role before. (It’s not usually helpful though to have them speak with those who were not a good match and who didn’t enjoy the service!)
- Leave space for the “holy no.” No matter how much your team believes this person is the right fit, if he or she doesn’t believe it or the timing isn’t right, it won’t work.
- Leave space for the “not this but that” conversation. During the prayer and discernment time the person may have heard about another volunteer opportunity that gets them quite energized; you need to be prepared to explore that new option.
- Don’t stop with the “confirmed” call. Be sure there are resources to equip the person–especially if this is a new role. A sure way to burn someone out is to welcome them into a new role and then back away, leaving them to flounder.
As leaders, we have to believe that this prayerful and intentional process of calling people works (or it won’t). It takes time and attention to follow this process, and it helps to change our mindset from “doing church work” to “inviting people into ministry.” When we assume that people are too busy, uninterested, or unavailable, we prevent them from the joy of serving where they are gifted. When we downplay the value of the ministry by calling it “easy” or by fudging on the time commitment needed, we undervalue God’s call to serve.
Is there a place for all? Do we believe that the church is the body of Christ and so all are needed and all are important? What has been your experience?
Liz Perraud is Executive Director of GenOn Ministries (Springdale, PA). GenOn trains, resources, and supports churches in healthy growth through intergenerational ministry (www.genonministries.org). Liz is also a ruling Elder at Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church (Columbia, MD) where she serves as the Christian Education Chair and leads Bible study with middle schoolers at LOGOS.