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Friday, July 18, 2008

Volunteer Misconceptions

Misconception #1 “A servant-heart and willingness to serve is all you need”

Ever heard someone sing a horrible solo in church but they are the nicest person you have ever met? Ever had someone paint a wall in the church that looks like they threw the paint directly from the bucket to the wall but they have the biggest smile ever?

Danger, Will Robinson.

As leaders, if we allow someone to serve in an area they are not cut out for, it is a big shame on us as leaders (Ephesians 4:12). That song that says, “All God’s Children Have a Place in the Choir?” It is only a metaphor. Really.

Treating people as commodities and getting them to fill a hole is a sure recipe for frustration—for the leader and the volunteer. As leaders, our number one priority with volunteers should be helping them find their right place.

Sure, we want both heart and skill and desire and trustworthiness and everything else. But, a guy with a big heart who is deaf should not be running your soundboard. For everyone’s sake—including his—get him out of there!

I remember Laura. She was so smiley when she showed up at music team auditions. We needed vocalists badly. Female vocalists were scarce. Our music style is very much in the modern-rock vein. So, she sang her song. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (thankfully, I did neither). To say it was awful would be to say it kindly. Simon Cowell would have had a blast with this one.

What about her heart though? Oh, it was huge. When it comes to heart, I want to be this lady when I grow up.

I never enjoy killing someone’s dream but I had an obligation to her, to the team, to the church, and to God. I told her it wasn’t going to work out.

But, she wasn’t done. She walked over to the piano and told me she could play. Excellent! Maybe I wouldn’t have to feel bad for her all day! She said she was going to play “As the Deer” for me. Not exactly my first choice but I was all ears—painfully all ears.

It was so bad I had to ask Laura if she was sure that was the name of the song (I said it nicely, don’t worry). She hung her head. She looked so defeated. Then she reached down into a bag. She pulled out a little black instrument that looked familiar to me but, I hadn’t seen it for a while—not since kindergarten as a matter of fact. Without forewarning, Laura blew some of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard come out of a recorder. I couldn’t recognize the tune but I’m pretty sure it was “As the Deer.” I didn’t need to say a thing. She knew.

“Laura,” I asked, “Why do you want to be part of this team?” I wish I had asked that question before the audition. It would have saved us both some pain. “It just looks like you love what you are doing,” she said. “I want to know what that feels like.”

Over the next two hours, through tears and laughter, I had some of the most amazing conversation I have ever had with a volunteer. We talked about what made her tick. We talked about finding her a place—not just any place—“her” place. Laura went on to lead one of the most successful ministries in our church—a team with little turnover. If this team isn’t racking up crown jewels in heaven, I don’t know who is. Laura began helping me plan music team events and taking care of all the details of those events—the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. I often wonder what would have happened if I had just let her go—or worse yet, if I had put her on the team.

Misconception #2 “I can’t ask them to do that. They are just volunteers.”

I am convinced that we, as kingdom people, need to have the same level of commitment as volunteers in the church we would have as a paid staff member. Of course, I AM paid staff so you might think that is easy for me to say. But honestly, I volunteered in the church for YEARS at about 10-20 hours a week.

There are volunteer firefighters, paramedics, coaches, candy stripers, teacher’s aides, community servants, City council members, PTA presidents, etc. They all work within a system and follow the expectations, rules and responsibilities of their organization. We expect them to give it their all and submit to training, leadership, service, supervision, evaluation, and correction. There is a standard. You don’t want your volunteer fireman cutting corners when giving you CPR.

This is GOD’S church.

Misconception #3 “If I ask too much of them they will all burn out.”

I think we need a new word for “volunteer” in the church. One that has more of an “ownership” feel.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks look at the church as something they “get something from” as opposed to “give something to.” We have a lot of work to do as leaders.

My grandparents were always volunteering their time somewhere. My high school friends were very active in volunteer organizations and causes—the Red Cross, Adopt-a-Highway, etc. It once was a title to make you proud. I have good childhood memories of people wanting to be labeled “volunteer.”

Why is it that my grandparents never used words like “burnout” when they gave of their time to some organization? Why didn’t my high school friends ever complain about too much being asked of them at the Y? I never heard my brother talk about his volunteer fire captain expecting too much of him when he was sent to fight a fire.

Sure, if we don’t understand misconception #1 we will certainly burn people out. No one wants a bunch of inert task thrown at him or her in the name of Jesus. People want to know they are making a difference. They want ownership.

Give someone a job and you give him or her a church. The best and closest relationships that any of our people have at Westwinds are the ones that have been forged through service together. Sometimes the exact opposite of this misconception is true. We just have to have their best interest at heart.

Set the bar high for volunteers. You can always lower it. Our volunteers should expect to work 10+ hours in any ministry per week. 10 minimum. If they only work 5, it’s no big deal. They feel like they got off easy!

If not a new word, we need some perspective.

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