If you are in a church one thing you are going to realise fairly quickly is that it’s a whole different ball game.
In a business you’re working mainly with people that are paid but in a church we’re talking mainly a volunteer workforce. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that until you have really spent some serious time leading volunteers, you don’t know just how different it really is.
When you are paying someone to do a job, even if they are not necessarily passionate about the role, if they have a decent work ethic they will be doing it because they’re getting paid. In short, the primary (though not only) currency is….currency. Interestingly, I find that the most successful CEO’s tend to be the ones that utilise currencies besides money to motivate their workforce.
But back to volunteers; I’ve found that the most effective question to ask when trying to mobilise a volunteer workforce is: what is the alternative currency?
To unpack this, let me put it this way: supposing it’s not a paid role, what other feature or benefit is there to be involved in this ministry or role aside from a) a sense of duty or b) a general sense of the need to be active in serving Christ through serving the church?
It is this question that has led me to stumble across what I believe is actually the most valuable currency with people.
The ultimate currency is….Time.
To define this further; it’s twofold. Volunteers must sense that they are worth your time, and (critically) you value add to their time. To unpack further; when they need to talk to you, approachability and availability is key. Maybe the worst thing I can do whilst a volunteer is talking to me (especially if it is a pastoral care situation) is look at my watch. The only thing that may be worse than that is when they walk away from a meeting or conversation the I have called them in to thinking “well, that was a waste of my time.”
This is actually a struggle to get right because it takes an extremely long term perspective to continually see the value. I’m constantly amazed at the story of Mary and Martha’s encounter with Jesus. In case you’ve forgotten how it goes:
Luke 10:38-32 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f]Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Now its easy here to concentrate on what is going on in Martha as Jesus addresses what is essentially her idolatry. But I also think it is important to realise that Jesus is actually making a huge public statement affirming Mary’s use of her time. In batting away this complaint of Martha’s, Jesus is essentially saying “I refuse to allow you Martha, to take my time away from Mary.” This is kind of a big deal because Jesus knew better than anyone that his time was short.
Jesus’ ministry was one of constant investment in people, and those that responded to his discipling of them went on to change the world.
I believe that one of the biggest reasons why we struggle to fill rosters is because people do not see how involvement in certain ministries can be an effective use of their time. This is not because they are selfish. Quite the contrary in fact, it’s because people are generally not here to muck around. They don’t just want to serve well, but critically they want to know how their involvement in the church and it’s various ministries is going to better equip them to live real life out in the real world.
They only have limited time to commit after all.
In the back of people minds, sometimes even subconsciously are questions like:
- How is this experience helping me to grow my faith?
- How is it helping me to share the gospel more effectively?
- How is it helping me to handle conflicts better?
- How is it helping me ultimately draw near to God?
- How is this helping me to feel more and more connected with the rest of God’s family?
If we’re doing ministry right and investing in people like Jesus did, then ultimately they will slowly become ‘world changing’ people.
If that sounds ridiculous or lame, it only proves how far we’re drifted. Christians more than anyone should believe that even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
I want volunteers a) feeling genuinely listened to, b) more and more connected to and even needed by the church family and c) like every meeting or debrief they attend contains some practical, gospel-focused insight that they can ‘experiment with’ and apply in their work, school, uni, sports club, street whatever.
I need to improve on these areas more and more for the rest of my life and ministry.
So, if you’re interested, if you come along to this Saturday night’s Waratah Ministry council meeting, you will get to hear some amazing stories of answers to prayer, a free sausage sizzle, a free resource and training in how to ‘draft and develop’ new folks into ministry teams. It’ll be worth investing your time in.
Oh, and if you feel it isn’t I’m more than happy to sit down and have a cuppa to hear how we could improve it.
That’s just one of the meetings coming up in the next 7 days.
Your time is the most precious currency you have, careful how you spend it.