There are two types of fantastic volunteers we see in our churches: those who manage tasks getting done and those who lead other people.
The first type of volunteer shows up faithfully, does the thing we’ve asked them to do it, and eases the burden of everything getting accomplished that needs to get done. They are joyful servants who don’t ruffle any feathers, who serve with excellence, are fun to be around and who enjoy serving alongside others. They are content to do their thing then head home. At their best, they’re task managers.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? As I said, there are a lot of desirable qualities about these volunteers and they’re essential to accomplishing everything we need to get done in our churches.
Then, there’s the other type of volunteer. These people are leaders of leaders. They are culture-shapers and strategic planners. They ask questions and push us and others to be better. Sometimes they can be aggravating because instead of just checking off the tasks on the checklist, they’re asking us “why.” They challenge the process. They build a team and bring them along on the journey. They are proactively involved at every critical stage of the church’s ministry development and evolution and work closely with other key leaders. Our reach and impact in the community and the world is significantly enhanced – even sometimes driven – by their great contributions.
If someone were to ask me in most of my first 30 years of ministry who were the best volunteer leaders in the church, I would have probably pointed them to the managers. Volunteers who were very good at getting tasks done themselves. As a youth pastor, I would have pointed to our faithful volunteer Jim, who would set up and tear down the room each week, no questions asked. As a worship pastor I would have pointed to Connie, who coordinated the setlists each week and made sure all the musicians had their charts. As an Executive Pastor it was Carl, who could navigate the county’s building code meetings to get the necessary plans and approvals for our new building project.
Until recently, if I was asked, “who are your best leaders?” I would have gone to the Jims and Connies and Carls of the world. As I said, those volunteers are essential. I would’ve accomplished very little and would have likely been fired multiple times without the faithfulness of their gifts. But they were incredible managers, not necessarily the best leaders.
I’ve since come to understand that the best leaders don’t manage. We need to avoid limiting high-capacity volunteers in the church to doing tasks that they can accomplish all by themselves. As much as every church and organization needs task management volunteers, our churches are better served when we resist the temptation to only recruit highly competent doers.
In fact, these days some of the best leaders I know are volunteers who are leading other leaders. They are not just doing ministry themselves, they are recruiting, training, inspiring and unleashing entire teams of people to accomplish multiplied ministries. Their exponential reach is expansive because they understand not to do it on their own.
It’s Sheila who mobilizes thousands of volunteers in community service and engagement. Or it’s Jeff who is responsible for staffing and training an entire guest experience team. Or Jenny, who oversees dozens of small group leaders as they lead their groups.
As Craig Groeschel has stated, if you give people tasks you create followers. If you give them authority, you create leaders.
Every church and organization needs a combination of great leaders and great managers. But if you are a pastor or ministry leader, I encourage you to not be afraid to recruit volunteers who want to lead, then give them permission and authority to truly lead.