Volunteering Culture: the “NO!” word!
Don’t get me wrong, I love volunteering at church. We are after all one body and we can’t leave all the many countless jobs that need doing for the pastor (although some church congregations do!).
So, what do I mean when I say the “NO!” word? A lot of churches struggle to even get volunteers, so this might scare them a little.
Firstly, let me be clear, I am not saying don’t volunteer… Get off your butt and help!!! We are, after all, one big family and we all have to take turn it in turns washing the proverbial dishes.
What we tend to find at church when it comes to volunteers are three very different types of volunteers.
The first type are our the die-hards, they are there every Sunday, Friday, Tuesday no matter what the weather. They will do anything and will do it and keep doing it until you say… do something else (I almost said “say stop”, but I’m getting to that!).
The second type of volunteers are the old faithful’s. They have been serving since the church was founded, they are the ones who hoover the hall every Monday, then put the chairs back out every Friday after the kids have messed the place up after youth group. They may not be the quickest, but they get the job done and they are reliable.
Finally, the third type is the “every now and then group”, that drift in and out of the different volunteering departments not wanting to commit but like to help out when they can.
Let’s face it, the church needs all three types of volunteers, without them, most churches wouldn’t be able to open their doors, let alone be able to have a kids church or creche’.
So far all I seem to have done is confirm that we need volunteers. Well, now I want to mix it up a bit.
I see far too many people go to church, give their absolute all, I mean way above, way beyond the call of duty and do it for Jesus not expecting any recognition. They bless so many people and become so indispensable to the church leadership. Then after 6 to 12 months later, they burn out from volunteering and they just stop serving or even worst, just leave the church. Often they become broken and disillusioned, even angry and negative.
The problem is this sets a bad example for other people who have the heart to serve in a total surrender type of way. No one wants to take responsibility for what is happening when people burn out and fall away. Everyone thinks it’s the responsibility of the volunteer to slow down.
Let’s face it, the church needs volunteers, and pastors and leaders never want to turn down help as there is always something that needs doing.
So how do we bring health into volunteering at church?
Firstly and most importantly, tell your volunteers it’s ok to say “NO!” and mean it. Don’t just say it, but when they do say “NO!”, secretly take them off your Christmas list. Let them know if it’s getting too much, they need to tell you it’s too much. Then as their leader, you need to release them, change their schedule straight away (not next month!).
Side note: Listen up Pastors and leaders… don’t for one minute say, well it’s your job to pray for help if you can’t handle it!!! That’s the worst type of manipulation there is and it shouldn’t happen at church!
Secondly, pastors and leaders need to take responsibility for the people who are serving under them. You need to watch out for the diehard volunteers. Everyone knows you have so many responsibilities and need as much help as you can get. But you also have a responsibility to look after the health of everyone you’re responsible for.
It’s actually better for an event not to happen or a department shuts down temporarily because there aren’t enough volunteers to safely run it, than for you to start losing people with burnout.
It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t happen, but it is serious if you knowingly cause someone to leave the church because you put your own responsibility in front of his or her welfare.
I have seen it happen so many times and although I love the heart of the person serving, I long for them to know it’s ok to take a breath and be free to let someone else carry the “baton” for a while. If they knew it was ok to say “NO!” they would at least feel like they had a get-out clause when things got too much. The last thing these diehards want to do is let anyone down and they value being appreciated by the pastors and leadership team, so you can see how easy it is for them to get caught in a vicious circle.
One last thing, we need to develop a culture where people feel free to serve but aren’t discarded or cut out of the centerfold of the church the moment they say they can’t serve that regularly.
Some churches even make it hard for you to make friends with the pastor or senior leaders if you not serving your butt-off. As a way of protecting their pastors, these churches even use your level of commitment to serving to dictate whether you are invited to inner core social events. This is another form of manipulation that needs to stop in the church. It’s not healthy!
The problem is, church culture has been redefined as new churches rise up or split and people try and get the vision of the church pushed forward at any cost! Even if there a few casualties on the way.
Its time we change the culture, stop the manipulation, shut down a few departments and bring some much-needed health back into our churches. It’s ok to say “NO!”.