How can we in the church prevent volunteer burnout?

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"I did!" he said. "I did apologize. It didn't do any good."

"What did you say?" I asked.

"I told her I was sorry."

"You did?"

"Yes," he said, voice rising. "I told her I was sorry she was acting so immaturely."

It took all my powers of diplomacy to patch things up (we finally stuck the trees in elegant little flowerpots and handed them out as people left the ballroom), but both families eventually left the church.

Interpersonal conflict is a primary cause of burnout, so we take on the role of the loyal yokefellow. Paul uses this principle with Syzygus in his letter to the Philippians: "I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up …. Syzygus, since you're right there to help them work things out, do your best with them" (Philippians 4:2-3, The Message).

So we strive to mediate or prevent conflict. We're arranging lunch with a member of our missions team who has been unusually silent during the last few meetings—or absent altogether. I think she's upset, and I'd like to talk with her. Syzygus would have.

Paul: Give Recognition

Ever heard of Urbanus, Apelles, Tryphena, and Tryphosa? They weren't the most famous New Testament servants, but they must have beamed when the apostle Paul mentioned their hard work in his letter to the Romans. Paul's example prompted us to create opportunities like these:

  • While showing slides during the prelude or offertory on selected Sundays, highlight workers in various areas of church life.
  • Host an annual "Lay Ministry Sunday" with videos, testimonies, sermons, and sometimes a staff-hosted dinner for recognizing faithful workers.
  • Create videos of special events, such as our annual Kids' Jamboree. Then show two videos on successive Sundays—one featuring the kids, the other highlighting our workers.
  • Publish profiles of volunteers in our church newsletter.
  • Notes, calls, words of love, and lots of hugs from staff and members.
  • Select annually a "Lay Minister of the Year." One year's recipient was director of our teen choir. When Missy came forward to receive her plaque, teens from all over the audience rose spontaneously, joined her, and sang their theme to her, "Heaven Is Counting on You."

We can't do that every week, but we monitor and nurture morale all the time. That means becoming like Nehemiah, Syzygus, and Paul. And that means work.

But nothing works without it.

Robert J. Morgan is pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee. This article first appeared in Leadership journal.

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