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The Challenge of Working With Volunteers

In an article entitled “If You Don’t Pay Your Volunteers They Won’t Stay Your Volunteers,” Dave Jacobs suggests that leading a church is more difficult than leading a business. The reason that he gives for this is the church leader has to work with volunteers whereas the business leader can use such incentives as a pay cheque and the power to fire a person in order to motivate people.

There is a lot of truth in what Jacobs says. All of us who have held any sort of leadership position know that volunteers can some times have a mind of their own. There is a special skill that leaders must have in order to work well with the volunteers who do most of the work in our churches.

I want to focus in this article on just one aspect of working with volunteers. To steal an idea from Dave Jacobs, every church needs to have a plan for paying their volunteers. Obviously I’m not suggesting that there should be an item in the budget entitled”Volunteer Salaries” but there are other ways of paying people.


But doesn’t humility mean that we forego pay of any kind

I love a humble person. There is something appealing about a person who is very good at something and seems oblivious to that fact. Don’t you love the brilliant person who doesn’t even seem to know that she is brilliant or the talented musician who is quite willing to sit in the background letting other less talented musicians take the credit or the craftsman who seems unaware of how gifted he is?

I love those kinds of people but Christian humility does not exclude our recognizing someone else’s gift. There seems to be a fear in our churches that if we praise someone or offer appreciation for what they are doing, they will become proud and lose their humble spirit.

There is very little danger of that happening.

Dr.Marcial Losada came to the conclusion that to achieve maximum productivity, a person needed to receive 5.6 positive comments for every negative one. That is a ratio of almost six to one and most of us aren’t even coming close to that. Most of us are running such a serious positive comment deficit that there is no fear of us ever making it up.

No one wants to hear a person talk about herself and her achievements but all of us like to hear someone else make positive comments about us.

This morning I received a beautiful email thanking me for something and saying some nice things about my pastoral skills. Those comments are enough to keep me going all day.


Look hard for opportunities to  praise people

We don’t pay our volunteers salaries so we have to pay them in other ways. The wonderful thing about giving them praise and appreciation is that it doesn’t affect the bottom line on the budget at all. In fact we can praise our people and we don’t even have to go to the church business meeting for permission.

What we do have to do though is keep our eyes open for opportunities. There are many things for which we can thank people and offer a word of praise but we have to be alert enough to see them.

I was in a grocery store yesterday with my wife when she called my attention to a very attractively done display for Remembrance Day. She commented to me that it was very well done and then went over to the people working in that department to tell them how attractive it was.

She could have stopped with the comments to me but then the people who did it would never have heard that their work was appreciated.

Whenever we see something in our churches worthy of praise, we need to say something to the person responsible. Usually it only takes a moment but you will probably make that person’s day.


Use second-hand praise

Some times second-hand praise can be a powerful thing. Someone tells someone whom she knows is going to tell the person responsible and often that second-hand praise can be even more meaningful than it would be if it came directly from the first person.

Tell a  parent something positive about his child. Share a positive story about the Sunday school with the superintendent so that he in turn can pass the story on to the teacher involved. Tell a spouse that her husband did a great job of something so that they have something more than the sermon to discuss at the dinner table. There are no end of ways in which we can use second-hand praise. We just have to look for them.

This is not meant to replace first-hand praise but it is another way of passing that praise on.


Don’t let the fear of missing someone make you miss everyone

When I served as interim pastor, I took the opportunity one morning to publicly praise the young man who ran the sound system. He did an amazing job and I felt that he deserved to be recognized. After the service someone politely reminded me that there were other young people in the church other than the one who ran sound and that if I was going to praise one I need to praise all of them.

I agreed to the degree that I needed to look for other opportunities to praise some of the other young people but I disagreed in that I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to offer some well deserved praise to one because I might miss someone else.

Unfortunately when we offer public praise we run the risk of missing some very deserving people. We can’t allow that danger to stop us from praising people. We just need to increase our vigilance in watching for opportunities to praise others.


Creating a positive church

Leaders tend to create their church in their image. This is especially true for pastors but it is to a lesser extent true of other leaders.

When I hear a pastor complain about her church being ______________ (you fill in the blank), I always look to see to what degree I see that quality in the pastor’s life.

Complaining pastors tend to create complaining churches.

Negative pastors tend to create negative churches.

Pessimistic pastors tend to create pessimistic churches.

Narrow-thinking pastors tend to create narrow-thinking churches.

Now before I send you into a depression with all this negativity, let me also remind you.

Positive pastors tend to create positive churches.

Community minded pastors tend to create community minded churches.

Creative pastors tend to create creative churches.

Friendly pastors tend to create friendly churches.


Thankful pastor who continually praise people tend to create thankful churches who continually praise people.

So look for those opportunities to praise someone and then tell your people that they are appreciated for the jobs that they do.

Before you know it, it will spread and you will be a positive, thankful, praise-giving church that others might even want to emulate.

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