No More Volunteers

How can we shift from just filling empty slots to placing gifted servant-leaders in needed ministry roles?
We need people to volunteer today for the nursery. And we desperately need more volunteers to help with the youth group and seniors transportation ministry," pleaded the desperate pastor.

Get over it, I thought. Begging everyone and anyone for help from the pulpit inevitably produces unqualified helpers. No church profits from hastily recruited, ill-equipped volunteers. Churches prosper from hand-picked, well-trained servants who see what they do in the church as ministry not a job--as a calling not a burden.

Let's sharply delineate between volunteers and servant-ministers in a church:

Volunteers are recruited at large, are burdened by need, are doing a job, are working as a favor and for a favor, expect recognition, have a talent, are high maintenance, burn out quickly, leave a void, work lethargically, look for an out, fill a slot and tread water, and see a task as a stepping-stone.

Servants are hand-picked, are called by God, are ministering, are being a blessing, expect God, have a gifting, offer to help train and equip others, enlist helpers, leave a successor, are excited and enthusiastic, look to grow, grow personally and disciple others, and do a task as unto the Lord.

Volunteers fill a slot and hold down a position until the paid troops come in; servant-ministers refuse positions and titles while fostering new growth and excitement in their areas of ministry. Servants are the troops.

Paul definitively instructs the exemplary servant-leader with these imperatives: (1) "Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top"; (2) "Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead"; (3) "Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage"; (4) "Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand"; and (5) "Agree with one another, love one another, be deep-spirited friends" (adapted from Phil. 2, The Message).

So how does a pastor hand-pick persons to serve in ministry?

1. Know your people.
Develop relationships with your leadership.
2. Talk to your servant-leaders.
Share with them about the ministry needs and ask their input about potential servant-leaders.
3. Train and equip your leaders.
Provide them with the best resources and supporters. Always bring a new servant under a spiritual mentor who will guide, teach and direct the growing servant-leader. Never throw an untested servant into a new ministry without supervision, support and resources.
4. Be a servant.
People in a congregation model their pastor. If he or she expects to be served, then the sheep will develop a self-centered attitude. If, on the other hand, a pastor is always esteeming, affirming and serving others, the sheep will also become servants (see 1 Thess. 5:12).

Following are some of the warning signs servant-leaders begin to exhibit if their heart attitudes start becoming self-centered. They will begin: seeking positions and promotions; expecting recognition; desiring compensation (it's not wrong to pay workers, but servants who only do it for money are motivated by the wrong thing); complaining instead of finding ways to solve problems; criticizing instead of affirming others; becoming lone rangers instead of team players; and refusing to participate in team training and accountability times together.

Servant ministry begins with a heart change effected by the Spirit. And that heart change bears fruit first in the closest relationships a person has--marriage, family, friendships and working relationships. Relationship patterns reveal heart attitudes.

Ready to select and equip some servant-ministers? Pray! Ask God to shape you and your people into the kind of servant Jesus incarnated. Let it be said of all the servant-ministers in a church: "We can see they've been with Jesus."

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