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The Care and Feeding of Volunteers

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Dan Kimball: “Unlike church staff, volunteers don’t have the luxury of scheduling Fridays or Mondays off.”

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Have you noticed that with increasing emphasis on our own soul care, we church leaders can imply that our volunteers’ soul care isn’t as important? This was brought to my attention recently by a simple, innocent email exchange, which I share with permission from my coworker.

In response to an email I sent the coworker on a Friday, I received an auto-reply that read something like this: “You are emailing me on my days off (Friday and Saturday), so I will get back to you when I return to the office on Sunday.”

The coworker wrote the email to protect time off. Very understandable, but think about what it communicates to volunteers, who sacrifice their days off to serve. When they receive responses from church staff members indicating they don’t communicate about ministry when they’re not at work, how might that make volunteers feel? They’re serving on their day off, because we’ve asked them to.

Unlike church staff, volunteers don’t have the luxury of scheduling Fridays or Mondays off of work to balance their Sunday volunteer time. After an evening meeting for church, they can’t go to work an hour or two later the next morning to allow for family time. These volunteers serve in ministry in addition to their regular jobs.

Now, I don’t feel bad about that—they give up time for Jesus! It is an honor and joy to give our time for him in ministry. It’s a privilege for both volunteers and church leaders. But as we think of soul care, we need to remember that the church staff usually has a lot of time flexibility most volunteers don’t have. That’s why we should not neglect to teach our volunteers about the importance of caring for their souls, too.

Soul Train

Recently at an all-church volunteer meeting, I explained it this way: The local church is like a train. As the train travels quickly down the tracks, it is advancing the vision and mission of the church. People inside the train shoveling coal into the engine are serving in the church. From a window, two leaders call out to others to join the exciting mission. New people rise to the leaders’ challenge and hop aboard to serve Jesus. The church leaders continue casting their vision and inviting new people to join the mission. However, because the leaders are busy themselves, the people who boarded the train to serve grow tired. Some may even fall into the fire fueling the engine and burn out. But the mission is still there. The train continues, and the leaders don’t even notice the weariness around them.

We must all take soul care to heart. As leaders, we must address it regularly for the sake of volunteers and others serving in the church, and with the same zeal we have for our own personal soul care. As a church, then, I believe it is important to:

Be careful about how we make distinctions between pastors’ busy schedules and our church members’ own busy schedules.

Dedicate one leadership meeting each year to volunteers to address spiritual health.  We gave out gift copies of Bill Hybels’ book Too Busy Not to Pray (InterVarsity Press).

Model soul care. This is the best way to teach it. Always remember that a volunteer weekend, which the staff generally has off, is when volunteers are serving. Their sacrifice is tremendous, and they need to care for their own souls as much as, if not more than, we do.

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