Effectively Leading Volunteers
Organizing a project can be exciting. Blazing a new trail of ministry can be exhilarating. But that energy may dissipate when struggling to manage teams of volunteers. Frustration mounts when those who have committed their time drift away to other priorities or fail to follow through on their commitments. What if there were practices and skills to be learned that would avoid some of the tough barriers to effectively leading volunteers? If that sounds appealing, then read on!
In his book 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders, author Dr. Dave Earley describes several habits for a vibrant ministry. These practices transfer easily to the role of an effective leader of volunteers. Developing habits for effective leadership is important and God provides us with many examples in the Bible.
Cast the vision
In Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus casts his vision for the Kingdom of Heaven. The effective leader dreams about and sets goals for the health of the ministry, the number of people who will be impacted, the number of volunteers, and the multiplication of volunteers. Then the leader casts that vision – again and again – to maintain the momentum towards achieving the dream.
Pray for them
Effective leaders spend time each day praying for the spiritual health of their volunteers. They pray for the new volunteers that their current volunteers are recruiting; they pray for the multiplication of volunteers. In John 17:6-23, Jesus’ prayer shows us the world is a battleground when you are attempting to carry out God’s plan and purposes.
In Mark 1:14-20, we observe Jesus inviting others to join him in ministry. Effective leaders don’t just focus on their current volunteers. They have a heart for those who are not yet volunteering. Effective leaders must set the pace by inviting new people into the ministry. They help the leaders under their authority discover potential volunteers and recruit them into the ministry. They help the leaders under them develop their apprentices into effective volunteers and leaders who apply the leadership habits to their lives.
No leader can be effective without loving the volunteers that God has placed under their care. In I Corinthians 13:1-8, God shows us what real, relational love looks like. Effective leaders make sure that their volunteers are contacted frequently, consistently, and effectively. They put in the time necessary to build strong relationships. The key to any effective ministry is the ongoing care of the people in the system. When volunteers do not feel cared for they lose interest. It does not matter how leaders are contacted. What matters is that they are contacted. This can be via phone, email, texting or having touch-base conversations over coffee.
Hebrews 6:7-12 describes diligence and faithfulness to the task that we are given. Effective leaders prepare for their meetings with volunteers. They must invest time preparing to share with those under them. Volunteers’ time is precious and so is yours. Don’t waste it by being unprepared. Make these times as Christ-centered and encouraging as possible. By modeling preparedness and timely completion of commitments, leaders demonstrate expected behaviors to their volunteers.
Mentor future leaders
An effective leader needs to be mentoring future leaders in order to multiply the ministry. Successful leaders are constantly multiplying themselves by developing successors. Mentoring prepares the ministry for greater harvest. If a ministry has a strong mentoring process, trouble will be avoided if God sends a growth boom. It will be able to capture and go with the growth that God sends. Exodus 18:14-23 and Matthew 28:19-20 give a sense of how God uses mentoring to expand His kingdom.
Growing leaders will lead growing volunteers. Personal growth is very important for the leader of leaders. They need to continually learn, grow, and improve. Having intentional growth plans will set the pace and guide their volunteers to do likewise. Effective leaders set the example for those under them by following challenging growth plans and sharing them with those under them. Set a growth climate and a leadership atmosphere. Pass on helpful articles, books, websites and podcasts to the leaders under you. In Hebrews 5:7-6:3, we learn of God’s desire for us to grow and mature.
Finally, effective leaders use the power of fellowship to build up those they oversee. They especially need times where they don’t have to be the “workers.” They need times when they get cared for. They need time to blow off steam and relax. Effective leaders will create times and opportunities for those under them to enjoy fellowship with one another. The concept of “doing life together” is described by Paul in I Thessalonians 2:7-9. The relationships of Christians go beyond just completing tasks together.
Learning and practicing these habits can help you to become an effective leader of volunteers. But more importantly, you will serve God with excellence and love like He loves.
Linda Arnold, RN, MS, has led teams of volunteers as director of community impact, foreign and domestic missions, and through her work as a volunteer leader with Lutheran Women’s Missionary League and Women’s Leadership Institute. She currently teaches future nurses at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.
Resource: Earley, D. (2006). 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders. Houston, Texas: Cell Group Resources.
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