Leading Volunteers

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What I Learned from the Pharisees



In preteen ministry, volunteers make a HUGE difference. The volunteer who takes it upon himself to create pre-service games, buy the needed supplies, and get the preteens involved makes a difference. The volunteer who knows every kid by name, knows every kid’s struggle, and is praying for them weekly makes a difference. The volunteer who shows up without fail to every event and is always willing to do whatever is necessary without being asked makes a difference.


I’ve seen the power that a volunteer can make in preteen ministry. So naturally, I want more of them. I care about the preteens and I want our ministry to have the maximum impact upon their lives. I also don’t want things to be out of control, and the more leaders, the less opportunity for chaos exists. As a result I’ve given many opportunities to volunteers and even sometimes begged for help.


But are these the best reasons to give volunteers opportunities to serve in my ministry? To use volunteers as a tool to enhance my ministry to preteens—Is this the highest motivation?


I am called to preteen ministry, for sure. And to enhance my impact to preteens, more leaders are a big asset. But something doesn’t seem quite right here. At some point in my ministry leadership, I began to feel very hollow and convicted about my “volunteers as tools” approach.


Maybe it was when I was sitting in a workshop at a conference; it was called something like “101 Ways to Keep Volunteers Around.” Somewhere between #56 (write a note of appreciation at regular intervals) and #62 (give your volunteers the feeling that their opinions matter), I just felt wrong inside. Maybe having volunteers to serve alongside me was about more than just MY call to ministry. Maybe writing appreciation notes and listening to volunteers’ opinions is the right thing to do, but doing it just to keep them around for MY purposes was the wrong motivation.


I had embraced the importance of empowering volunteers, but I became a Pharisee of sorts. You see, the Pharisee often did “the right thing” but for the wrong reasons. Maybe my appreciation dinners were something like whitewashed tombs. Maybe my “I’ll treat you to lunch” was just a façade for fear and greed—fear that I would lose a volunteer if I didn’t and greedy for MY ministry to be the best it could be.


I’ve been on a journey and I don’t think I’ve arrived yet, but here’s what I’m beginning to see. The volunteer who takes it upon himself to create pre-service games is first and foremost a beloved child of God, not a tool in my tool belt. The volunteer who knows every kid by name has a ministry that God has entrusted to HIM and I would do well to help him to grow as a minister, not because it enhances my impact or makes me look better, but because it enhances his impact and makes Jesus look better. The volunteer who shows up to help whenever and wherever needed deserves my care, attention and appreciation, not to “keep them around” but because in him/her, I can see the Kingdom of God taking ground.


Yes, I care about preteens and I’m called to minister to them, but I’m not the only person in my congregation who is. My brothers and sisters who step forward to volunteer in the service of the King are precious to Him. As I stop viewing them as “making a HUGE difference” and start seeing them as “precious to Him”, it changes the heart behind the 101 things I do. I’m still empowering volunteers, but now the motivation behind it is not to grow or strengthen my ministry, but it’s to grow and strengthen these precious volunteers who are called by Jesus to be an integral part of His growing Kingdom.






About the Author

Sean Sweet leads a preteen ministry with his wife and two beautiful daughters in Rocklin, California. He is the director for the Preteen Leaders' Conference and a founding member of FourFiveSix.org. In addition, he loves Baja Fresh and his Snuggie.