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You Can’t Be Burned out Already!

Keeping volunteers happy

I have been an unhappy volunteer. I have felt unappreciated and underutilized. I have also felt humiliated and used. Because of some of my earlier ministry experiences on the receiving end as a volunteer, when I began leading women's ministry at my sweet church, I vowed to be a different kind of leader.

Ephesians 4:11-12 is pretty clear. Christ gifted us to be leaders for the sole purpose of equipping "God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ."

As a leader, we are not to do the work of the ministry on our own. This means we need help. Not slaves. Not minions. Not secretaries. And certainly not mini-me's. We are to find and train women for works of service to build up the collective body of Christ together.

Ten years of leading women's ministry, organizing small groups, and hosting seeker-oriented and believer-focused events with a revolving team of gifted women taught me volumes. Nothing as true as this: volunteers are not icing on the cake…they are the cake. They aren't just a good idea—something to check off our to-do list, names to fill holes on a spreadsheet. They are essential. And if you want to keep them around, you need to keep them happy.

It's All in the Fit

I did my best to make sure upfront that I was placing women where they would fit…if not perfectly, then as close to perfectly as I could. I would ask them what they enjoyed doing. I'd test them for their spiritual gifts and areas of passion. I would move them around within the ministry until they felt at their best, and if it turned out I'd filled a niche with just a breathing body, I'd release them and help them find something they loved in another ministry. Because if they were doing something they liked to do, then burnout would be staved off.

You Can Do It!

I intentionally encouraged my team members. At the beginning of each year, I sent each one a note telling them what I was looking forward to doing together.

At one of our kick-off team meetings, I got down on my hands and knees and washed each of their feet, telling them that this would be our mindset as we served the women of our church and community this coming year.

I'd pray for them throughout the ministry season, asking them what they needed prayer for and then checking in with them on that request.

At our meetings I reminded them why we were doing what we were doing.

After events I'd thank them for what they did, being specific in my praise.

I'd occasionally get them gifts just for the heck of it.

We ended each year with a fancy dinner to celebrate all that God did through us.

Basically, I befriended the women on my team. I shared my life with them and I tried to be attuned to what was going on in their lives.

What's in Your Toolbox?

I equipped my women with resources for their areas of service. Our communications gal, for instance, had a budget for materials she could enjoy playing around with. It made her task not only easier, but also more fun.

I would take them to conferences when possible. We would read leadership books together.

When they'd learn a new skill, I'd walk alongside them, give feedback, and let them go. One of my main jobs was to make these women ready for what we felt God wanted us to accomplish.

Bottomline, as John Ghegan said, "If I had to do it all over again, I'd get help." And I'd add to that, I'd make sure my help knew how much they meant to me and keep them coming back for more.

Elisabeth K. Corcoran started and led the women's ministry at her church for ten years, then went on to other church ministry roles. She is the author of five books, including At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday (Westbow). www.elisabethcorcoran.com

September06, 2012 at 8:17 AM

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