Hint: “We’re not going to pay you” didn’t make the list!

At the time I’m writing this, it’s Halloween, a time of year when normal law-abiding citizens turn scaring little trick-or-treaters into an art form. It’s also a time when many pastors and ministry leaders remain scared to ask people in their congregations to step into high-capacity leadership roles without pay. In my church, nearly 2/3 of our staff serve in major leadership roles as volunteers without pay. You may think that the scariest part of the recruitment process is breaking the news to them that you’re inviting them to serve without a paycheck. But that doesn’t even come close to making the list. We’ve learned a thing or two about how to scare off these leaders over the years. Here are three phrases that you probably want to avoid.

  1. You’ll probably say “no,” to this role, but…

One of the worst things you can do is say “no” for someone before they have a chance to consider the position. Saying “no” for them has even prevented many a ministry leader from even asking a person to step up and serve. You can convince yourself that they’re too busy, they have too many obligations already, they’re at the wrong stage in life, they have too many irons in the fire, surely they’re not interested. This mindset will convince you to ask hesitantly and even apologetically. Your invitation needs to be bold and forceful, filled with vision and expectancy. Don’t say “no” before they even have a chance to say “yes.”

  1. You could do this in your sleep

All attempts to soft-sell the position are scary for a high-capacity leader. “This won’t take much time, this will be so easy for you, you’ll be able to pull this off in your spare time,” none of these phrases are motivating to true leaders. Leaders want to know that there’s a big problem to solve, a dilemma to figure out, and that it will take their best time, their best energy, and some sacrifice to pull it off. And in the end, there will be a kingdom-sized payoff! Don’t soft sell the ask, because real leaders like a challenge. Plus, if you soft sell the role and they agree to it, at the first sign of difficulty, they will quit. Because, hey, this was supposed to be easy—and it turned out to be hard.

  1. I’m so overwhelmed, and I need you to step up

Don’t go into a big ask and tell your potential volunteer leader how worn out you are. Don’t digress into how being a pastor is so overwhelming that no one understands what you’re going through, and you just need a little help to keep your head above water. First, every profession comes with overwhelming challenges, so most don’t want to hear how hard pastors have it. But second, most volunteer leaders won’t be motivated to join in on what appears to be a sinking ship with a desperate captain at the helm. High-capacity leaders are drawn to other high-capacity leaders, so they need to see how you are attacking big problems and how they are part of the solution. Don’t play the victim card.

Don’t scare off your potential leaders with these phrases. Instead, set up a one-on-one conversation with them. Sit across the table and don’t apologize, don’t soft-sell, don’t be a victim, but look them in the eye and tell them, “I think you are perfect for this role. No one could do this like you could. You are perfectly suited to diagnose the problem, and then propose and execute a kingdom solution. Do you think God might be calling you to this role?”

Pay or no pay, most leaders will be energized by a heart-pounding invitation like that!