Depending on your background or current situation, that word can either strike fear into your heart, fill you with dread, or – if you have had great experiences – make you imagine that you’re rolling down a hill of tangerine Jelly Bellys and landing in a pile of puppies.
It’s no secret that churches run on the backs of volunteers. It’s their blood, sweat, and tears that keep the yard mowed, the kids discipled, the offering counted, and the fellowship hall set up. And while it can be difficult to find an adequate number of volunteers (because you can never have enough), the subject of volunteer leaders is altogether a horse of a different color. Volunteer leaders take things to another level. The right ones can fuel and further your ministry, and the wrong ones can undermine and derail it. Volunteer leaders who lead other volunteers often have eyes and ears that you do not, and their reach can be a blessing or a curse.
So how do you find them, how do you train them, and how do you maintain alignment with them? Here are a few thoughts:
Around the Summit, we say that the church is a leadership factory. Out of all of the organizations in the world, we should be leading the pack in raising up godly, passionate, well-trained, high capacity leaders. And usually, they are already in the pews, waiting to be discovered.
Scratch that. Adjust it. The best leaders aren’t just filling time in the pews, waiting to be found. They’re actively serving and leading whether or not you ask. That may be happening in your church, but more than likely they’re serving outside the walls if you haven’t defined space for them inside the walls. So define that space. Look for people whom others are already following, and begin to hand off some responsibility to them. Cast a vision. Set a challenge. Ask them to help you implement a project. But the bottom line is this: ask. Don’t be afraid to challenge someone to put 1 Peter 4:10 into action.
To be clear, I’m always wary of people who demand leadership without first demonstrating service. When someone wants a title, the first thing I want to know is what are you already doing? One of the best leaders at our church was a guy I first noticed when he was crouched down on a Sunday morning, cleaning the glass in the front doors of the lobby. He was serving in a position of humility with no thought of recognition or reward. He didn’t need a title to take up a towel.
Never assume that just because you’ve found a leader they know what you expect them to do. You should provide a simple job description, an ultimate “win,” and a clear on-boarding process whenever you bring someone into the fold. This isn’t micromanaging; it’s setting clear goals for them to reach.
Most of our ministries have a leadership pipeline: a short list of checkpoints for every step along the way. Those checkpoints may be a book to read, a profile to fill out, or an interview to take part in, but each level of leadership brings new responsibilities and new requirements to move up.
On our Connections Team, we offer two series of High Capacity Volunteer (HCV) Cohorts per year. These are small gatherings of vols from all of our campuses, vols who have been hand-picked and nominated by campus leadership, and vols whom we believe are ready for more responsibility. It’s a big investment on our part: we provide lots of books and lots of training. It’s a big investment on their part: they have to read lots of books and show up at 6:30 AM once a month for the meetings. But what we’ve found after four cycles of these Cohorts is that they are producing better volunteers who are far more invested in the ministries of their campus.
Formal training will take leaders so far, but alignment comes through relationships. You have to know the heart of a leader to understand where the vision is drifting and leaking. As Dave Ramsey says, you have to have your arm around their shoulders before you can thump ’em on the ear.
Sometimes leaders drift. It’s not always intentional, and it doesn’t have to be an act of rebellion. In our busy lives, we just forget the wins and we need to be reminded. We need to recognize why we’re here. We need to hear again where we’re heading. Just like believers need to daily remind themselves of the gospel, leaders need to daily remind themselves of the goal. That takes gentle correction. It takes pep-rally-level-shouting. It takes all of us encouraging all of us to press on.
Those are my verbose, 30,000 foot thoughts on finding, training, and aligning. It’s not a comprehensive list. It’s probably not even the best one. What would you add or take away? Comment below.
Big thanks to Eric Lloyd for the idea for the post.