"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Five Core Principles Core Principle #2: Leadership Team

Empowering Your Volunteers

Jana Sundene

I'11 never forget the first volunteer I supervised. Her name was Lisa and she only stayed around for a few months - largely because of my inability to empower her. She had been running the ministry for several months in the absence of an "official" staff person, but when I came in I decided that I (the expert) should take over. After all, she was just a "volunteer"! So, I proceeded to gently push her toward the background while I stepped in. In the process I learned everything you ever wanted to know about how to depower a volunteer.

My mistakes with Lisa remind me of an unfortunate experience I had recently. As I was driving to work, the left front wheel of my car shot dramatically across the road in front of me, causing the car to skid perilously on its axle toward the grassy shoulder. The problem? I had had some work done on the brakes, and the lug nuts for one of the wheels were not properly tightened, so off went my wheel! As a result, my car was rendered undrivable. I think our volunteers are like those lug nuts. Sure, we may be the "big wheel" of the ministry, but if our volunteers are not properly attended to, we may end up with a ministry that is in many ways skidding to an unhealthy halt.

Our volunteers are one of the moving forces behind what enables a ministry to meet the students at their points of need. If we truly understand that our volunteer staff is one of the most important keys to ministry effectiveness, then we will be motivated to empower them. Too often, through neglect or ignorance we depower the people who have the potential to bring the most energy and care to our ministry. Carefully consider the following ways to empower your most important helpers-volunteers. How are you doing?

1. Respect and value their unique contribution.

What does this volunteer bring to the ministry? How can I provide opportunities for him to share that gift or skill with the students? We must put to death our tendency to want to shine brighter than those around us, find ways to express appreciation for others' strengths, and give them a chance to shine too.

2. Entrust them with roles of importance and meaning.

Don't limit your volunteers to being your go for or tell them that just hanging around the students is all they need to do. Help them to find a meaningful place in the vision and purpose of the ministry. Assist them in understanding the importance of their role to the students and to the vision of the ministry.

3. Be concerned about their spiritual health.

Spiritual ministry will only occur as spiritually growing people interact with students. This means that knowing about and encouraging the spiritual lives of your volunteers needs to be a priority. Do your staff meetings only cover information? Do your conversations only focus on finding out what is happening in the lives of the students they are working with? Make sure that you are personally interested in the spiritual lives of your staff as well.

4. Facilitate their connection to one another (thus helping them to establish a support network).

Try as we might, we cannot fully understand the frustrations, challenges, and joys of being a volunteer. Even if we have "been there," they may still perceive us on a different level just because we do this for our "job." I've found it is essential to help provide opportunities for volunteers to connect with each other to commiserate, problem-solve, and encourage each other in the trenches of ministry.

5. Equip them with the skills they need to effectively minister to youth.

This is an obvious but important area. We must never expect more of our volunteers than we are willing to train them in. Invest some time here, and you will be amazed at how much more confident and effective your volunteers become.

About the Author

Jana L. Sundene (B.A., Wheaton College; M.A., Northern Illinois University) is assistant professor of youth ministry at Trinity International University.


Taken from Reaching a Generation for Christ, ed, Dunn and Senter, copyright 1997, Moody Press. Used by permission.