At the time of writing this, we (in the US) just celebrated Independence Day. The idea of “freedom” got me to thinking about how to set volunteer leaders free to lead.
You might ask, “Why is it important for volunteers to feel the freedom to lead?” A proper understanding of unleashing volunteers to lead in the giftedness and calling that God has given them is the key to truly creating a volunteer culture in your organization.
Imagine having someone who raises their hand to serve in your church. Perhaps it’s because of a specific ask you’ve made or because they simply feel it’s the right thing to do. They show up on time, wait for your instruction, and do exactly what you ask them to do. They do so without messing up and without raising a ruckus. They’re essential to helping you get the things done that you want to do. They’re the textbook definition of a good volunteer.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Now imagine a person who is free to lead. They show up early and challenge themselves and challenge your systems. They don’t only do what you ask them to do, but they go above and beyond. They listen to the promptings of God in how they approach serving in the church and they consistently take things to the next level. They bring ideas that you’ve never even thought about…ideas that propel things to the next level. They do serve with excellence, but sometimes working with them is a bit messy because they’re pushing you to be a better leader. They don’t just exist in the culture you create, but instead they help define the culture.
Both types of volunteers are essential to the life and ministry of the church. The subtle difference, however, is that the second volunteer has been unleashed to lead. In that freedom, they will help remove more burden from you and will expedite the advancement of the mission.
So, how do you create freedom for your volunteers? Here are four steps:
1. Create a Compelling Vision
Vision is a picture of the preferred future, cast in a way that creates passion and momentum. As Andy Stanley says, “A vision is simply a mental picture of what could be, fueled by a passion that it should be.” Leading the vision is one of the key jobs of every leader.
When you look at some of the key figures of the bible, they were convinced of a key vision. Moses had a vision to lead his people to the promised land (see Deuteronomy 11:9-12). Jesus had a vision to connect people to the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:18-19).
Your vision should be simple, memorable, visual (paint a picture), and concrete. Crafting a compelling vision and casting it for your volunteer leaders is essential to creating a volunteer culture where people are free to lead.
2. Give Clear Direction
Along with painting the visionary picture of where you’re going, it’s important to provide people with a clear direction of how to get there.
It’s your job as the lead leader to set the expectations. It’s up to you to create the boundaries for your volunteers to freely operate within. This typically comes in the form of a job description. Let people know the bare minimum of the expectations. Provide them written documentation of the non-negotiables.
However, resist the urge to control this too tightly. While you want to provide people with a baseline for operation, you also want to keep the lens open wide enough for them to maneuver with their gifts, talents, treasures, and callings.
3. Don’t Micromanage
After you’ve given a good job description, resist the temptation to micromanage. While we want to keep people moving in the same direction and prevent mission drift (by continually reinforcing the vision), it’s important that we give people the permission and freedom to experiment, fail, and succeed.
Yes, you need to own the standards and hold people accountable to them. But you also need to hold your agenda with an open hand and trust the Spirit of God’s working within the people he has brought to your path.
Ongoing feedback is important, but make sure it’s focused on the vision, mission, and training rather than correcting and managing. Give people an overview of what needs to be accomplished, but then let them decide the how it gets done.
Remember, micromanagement isn’t scalable. If you have to be in the weeds of every decision and process, you’re likely inhibiting your ministry’s growth.
4. Celebrate The Wins
An area that most leaders forget, or neglect is celebrating the wins. Nothing will encourage and enable a volunteer to spread their wings more than you celebrating them.
Hold banquets, give awards, write thank you cards, or whatever else you need to do to honor the work of your team. Praise in private and in public. Most of all, tie the celebration back to the vision and mission.
I’m confident that the best volunteers are those who feel the freedom to lead. I want to build a culture of volunteer leadership such that, when I’m no longer around, the team can continue to move forward. I challenge you this Independence Day week (or whenever you read this) to set your volunteers free.