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How Pastors Can Lead Volunteers Effectively

As a pastor or church leader, you can’t be everywhere at once. Your schedule is jam-packed with hospital visits, budget planning, writing your sermon, and all the miscellaneous tasks it takes to keep the church running smoothly. How do you get everything done?

Volunteers can be the saving grace of your congregation. Of course, we all know people are busy with their own life, family, and activities. Still, your flock keeps coming through in a pinch, providing support, love and fellowship to the rest of the congregation, and to the community. Because volunteers aren’t a paid part of your staff, there are some difficulties associated with retaining and leading them.

Is there some kind of secret to leading volunteers?

Convincing people to give their time, energy or resources, and directing them takes certain finesse. That’s not to say they need to be guided differently than your professional staff, but you will need to take a variety of factors into account. Namely, your paid staff has a level of accountability that volunteers don’t necessarily have.

Church-04Volunteers require some special motivation under a common cause. Hair appointments, taking the kids to soccer practice and the weekly ordeal of cutting the grass and trimming the hedges constantly gets in the way, but they must be done when running a normal household. Volunteering for a cause generally takes the back seat and is relegated to free time. If you make it easy for your congregation to feel like they are a part of something fulfilling and important, they’ll join.

Think about your own personal connections, and the reason behind why you do what you do. Do you even know the motives behind your actions sometimes?

Leadership, in my opinion, isn’t just about managing people at a job. You have to recognize them and care for them as people, not just as a number or a body to fill the pews. If you invest in people, they will invest in your long-term goals.

Speaking of goals, we all know its good to have them. It means you have a plan and a purpose. While you will share these goals with your volunteers, it doesn’t mean that the final product is the most important part of the effort. American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Don’t focus on the goal, instead, enjoy the experience volunteers have while engaged in activities. If, as a pastor, you organized a canned food drive, it’s great to come up with a final tally of how much food the church raised. But the true joy is in the preparation, watching people pack the boxes and sharing the joy of fellowship. It’s about knowing they are making a difference in another person’s life, someone they don’t know and might never know. That’s real power.

As a leader of volunteers, make sure you set the tone. It will be hard work. Your actions determine the pace, attitude and engagement of your flock. Set clear expectations and provide everything instrumental for the activity’s triumph.

Successful volunteer endeavors create a ton of opportunity. For instance, some people will adapt quicker than others and reveal a hidden talent. Cultivate those people into leaders, and look for a way to delegate responsibility. Just because someone isn’t a member of the church staff doesn’t mean they don’t have aptitude for leadership. People are indeed special creatures; some feel more passionate about certain causes, and might not realize their passion until they heed the call to action.

Finally, be thankful for all the support, and don’t take it for granted. Volunteers don’t have to donate their time to any cause, so be grateful for it. Make sure people know they are appreciated. Make it a point to stop them in your metal church building and tell them they are valued, or give them a call.

Communicate your vision, invest in people, set the tone, cultivate talent, and be thankful. Lead, and they will follow.

Photo courtesy: Guilio Bernardi