Volunteers….one word that holds a lot of meaning, pressure, baggage, frustration, oh hey…and joy…right?
Did I hit a chord with any of those words? I don’t think any of us would want our first reaction to the topic of volunteers to be one of hardship or struggle – and maybe that isn’t your story and leading volunteers has always been easy and your teams have been drama free and your weekend rosters are full – that is awesome!! For so many of us though, we know that volunteers are a large part of what we do and we are totally sold on the concept, but we get stuck on all the details and challenges that come with leading a team of volunteers.
I can’t promise to demystify all of your challenges with your volunteer team, but I do believe that if we become better at knowing our own tendencies of leading from a place of fear, scarcity or control and we can begin to lean into empowering people – that we will watch our relationship to leading volunteers transform.
“But it’s easier if I just do it.”
What might be more accurate is “it’s easier/faster/better if I just do it”. Leading volunteers and inviting them to be part of our ministry in significant ways can often feel like the road to lesser-quality products and slower workflows. So our tendency is to take all the high-pressure or high-profile tasks (things that are very visible or more likely to be critiqued by senior leadership) and do them ourselves. While this may be faster and maybe even better quality in the short term, what it does is leave our volunteers with roles and tasks that don’t feel significant or important. Some of the people who join our teams will be totally fine with that, but there are so many men and women on our teams who are waiting for someone to call something more out of them.
A turning point for me was when another leader asked me if I could empower and train volunteers in such a way that I work myself out of a job. I loved the idea of this and you could even catch me telling people how important I thought it was to have volunteers leading at all levels. But when I actually started looking at all the parts of my job, I had to stare at my fear and tendency toward control in the face. I was afraid that if I gave certain tasks away then I would somehow lose my job or people would misunderstand my intentions and think I was being lazy. I was afraid that if certain things took a little bit of a dip in quality while I was training a volunteer to get them up to speed that I would be reprimanded and critiqued in some hurtful ways. Want the truth? Some of those things did happen, but the one really important thing that I did was have a few people in my corner who also believed in the idea, had my back, and gave me lots of affirmation and encouragement.
The question I started asking myself was “What can I give away here?” This does require a bit of a slow down. The first place I have to slow down and pay a little more attention is in my knowledge of my volunteers. Am I getting to know my volunteers on a deeper level, do I know what they are interested in and curious about on our team and in our rooms? Maybe they have always wanted to know how to operate the video switcher, but feel intimidated by all the buttons. Maybe they have a deep prayer life and would love nothing more than to help facilitate some team connection time where we look at scripture and pray together. Do I know the untapped skills that my current volunteers bring to our team and maybe they just need a little more training, encouragement and an opportunity?
The moments in my ministry career when I took a risk and allowed a volunteer to own something BIG were initially scary and fraught with some anxiety, but those moments also became some of the most energizing and rewarding. Empowering volunteers freed me up to lead more people and also celebrate the growth of each volunteer as they discovered some of their untapped potential. Empowering volunteers to lead and execute at higher levels is the gift that keeps on giving. When you lead with a “give it away” mindset you also develop that mindset in your volunteers and they, in turn, will become people that want to train and develop other people.
As you look over your volunteer roster this week, is there a member on your team that you could ask to coffee and get to know a bit better? Is there a volunteer that seems to always hang around the booth that might just need an invitation to lean in and learn a bit more about one of the positions? Maybe there is an area where fear is the lead factor in determining who does what – how might God be inviting you to take a step in trusting the community and team around you to take your ministry to the next level?
What can we give away, and where might God be waiting to surprise us with the results?
Grow your team through FILO Coaching:
Here at FILO we know how hard it can be to balance regular production work and pouring into your team. We want to help – this is why we created FILO Coaching! We want to connect you with other production leaders and empower you to be the healthiest version of yourself. If you are interested in learning more, check out our Coaching page