Volunteers: God´s strange plan for increased ministry:

Being The Hub of Ministry For most of my ministry career I have worked in smaller contexts where it was totally possible to connect with all the students in my ministry.  I was the logistical and relational hub for my ministry.  I don´t even think this was necessarily a bad thing.  I was my job, my vocation to love on students and help them connect to Jesus.  And with a youth group that was able to fit into my living room, it wasn´t that hard to walk with students in a very intimate way.

During this season, I did have volunteer leaders to help.  And for the most part, they did a great job of whatever I asked them to do. I read all the books about how we need volunteers and about proper ratios, and I did just that.  In fact, I had some of the best chaperones and drivers on the planet.  They even did  good job helping with crowd control and keeping things safe and in order.

When I reflect back on what I expected my leaders to do, I am saddened that I held the reigns of my ministry so tightly.  I allowed very little space for my leaders to truly connect with our students.  They were adults in the room, and that was about it.  And because I only had a handful of students, this didn´t seem to be a problem.

But as my ministry  has grown and I've moved to larger contexts, I've found that my old ways are deeply ingrained in me.  I'm still trying to be the logistical and relational hub of my ministry.  And while I'm hitting the logistics out of the park (and should be because that is my job) I have noticed that I am struggling relationally.  There is no human way for me to be intimately connected to every student in my ministry.

What To Do When You Can No Longer Be The Hub. The core value of my ministry, and probably yours too, is that every student is seen, is prayed for, and is being loved on by an adult.  I used to be that adult for every one of my students.  And now that I can´t be, I'm finding myself at a crossroads.  Every kid must be connected to an adult, and I can´t do it alone.  So, just like the books said, I put every student in a small group with an adult and given the adults the responsibility to love, care for, and pray for the students in their small group.

With these small group leaders  building relationship with their students, I've still been reluctant to give them too much power or authority.  I am the youth pastor, you know; it is my job to be the one in charge.  So I give them just little bits of responsibility, and little bits of information, so everyone knows that I'm still The Man.

Leaders as Partners, Not Just Helpers: But as I give little bits of responsibility, and assign specific students to care for, something strange has been occurring.  They actually have more buy-in and bigger hearts for the students and for the ministry.  I realized that I've been treating my leaders like helpers and not as partners.  For whatever reason, I missed this huge distinction in the books that I had been reading.  I totally get that I am in charge and that I need people to help me pull of the ministry.  But volunteer leaders are not just supposed to be helpers, but to actually be partners in our ministry.

Helpers are easy. I am in charge and they do what I need to pull off ministry.  But a partner is someone who shares in the responsibility as well in the emotional and spiritual weight of doing ministry. The only way that our volunteers will share these things with us is if we allow them to.  Most of our volunteers are doing so because they do love students and they do want more responsibility.

Developing partners is much more of a challenge than developing helpers.  Developing partners means we need to see our volunteers as so much more than people with resources to help us pull off ministry; rather they are gifted and called people who just need to live more fully into the people that God has made them to be.  They need space to try out their gifts and talents.  Often this means that they might not do something as well as we can.  But we must let go and let them work it out.  For as they work out their gifts and calling their hearts will grow.

The Process Is Always More Important Than The Product: For me the product is always what is the most important.  That's why I need good helpers.  But in ministry, I am re-learning that the process is where ministry happens.  The product is just a opportunity for a process to occur.  When we allow volunteers to participate in the process, and more over have responsibility and control in the process, they actually become our partners.

Thankfully God has forced me to surrender my old ways of doing ministry.  It is impossible for me to do the ministry I desire with our students all by myself.  I must make space for my volunteer leaders to actually lead.  Because my job has always been logistics and relationships, I am finding I am in dire need of an entirely new skill set.  For to truly allow others to partner with me, I must equip and empower my volunteers.

Leader training, sending, and debriefing has become my bread and butter lately.  As I am slowly learning how to do this, a transformation is happening in my heart as well.  I am finding total joy in taking a back seat and watching my leaders grow and develop into lean mean ministry machines.

It Seems To Be The Biblical Way: The truth is that I can accomplish ministry all by myself and do a pretty good job.  But when I do ministry this way I am actually working in a manner foreign to the heart of God.  God can easily accomplish all of his desired work on Earth all by himself.  He is God.  But for some strange reason he has invited humans to participate with him in the process of redemption.

What is strange to me is that God doesn't just want us to be helpers.  He invites us to be partners.  The heart of God is that we would share in ministry with God.  That we would be equipped and empowered to do ministry.  For those of us called to vocational ministry this is part of our call.

For me, I needed the reminder that this call is not unique to me.  We are part of the priesthood of ALL believers.  All of us are called to ministry.  God is not just interested in me being equipped and empowered.  Part of my calling must be to partner with the heart of God to equip and empower my volunteers for ministry as well--equipping them to be more than great helpers, but actually be partners who share in the ministry we have all been called to do.

As I am forced to figure this out, I am excited to have a growing edge, a place where I am forced to learn and depend on the power and grace of God.  I would love to know what you do to equip your leaders for ministry.  But even more, I would love to know how you actually empower them for ministry.  I am thankful God has invited me to be his partner, and in this new season of ministry, I look forward to developing my volunteers into true partners.