Treat your volunteers as if they were the staff team you want to have in five years.

Many, many years ago the senior leadership in my church asked me to take on the Director of Children’s Ministry role. As I prayed about accepting this role, I realized that I knew about some details of this ministry, but not all. I approached the senior pastor and asked him a very interesting, yet important question, “Is this a suicide mission?” The senior pastor smiled, shook his head no, and replied “Not at all. You just need to pull this boat into shore and swab the deck.” Unfortunately, I soon realized that either the senior pastor was an outright liar or he was woefully misinformed about an area of ministry in the church that he was leading. The Children’s Ministry was completely disheveled. The budget was in absolute disarray, and the volunteers were angry, weary, and ready to throw in the towel. To suggest that the ministry simply needed to be pulled into the dock and have the deck swabbed was the furthest thing from the truth.

First of all, there was no opportunity to pull it into the dock. We were out at sea traveling at full clip. I very quickly came to realized that I was standing on a ship whose deck had mushy and rotten boards. As I began to remove those boards, I realized there even were rotten support joists under those boards. We had a massive problem on our hands. A problem that was now my responsibility to solve.

My solution was to bring around a team of people and treat them as if they were the staff that I desperately needed five years from that moment. I treated my volunteer team as if they were paid employees with roles and responsibilities. They had job descriptions and reviews. They had a level of engagement with me that was unparalleled with any other person in the ministry. I gathered around me a set of people whom I called, “The Faithful Few,” and I treated them as if they were the staff I needed. Throughout this process, I grew in my ability to lead, conduct meetings, carry out vision, and empower people. Truly, the greatest student in this process was me. As I learned and grew, I positioned myself in such a way that when God was ready to actually provide full-time staff, I would know how to manage them.

Would a team of paid staff fix the problems in your ministry, making your life easier? So many leaders think the solution to their problem is to add more staff.  I would submit to you a harder question, however. Would you know what to do with a staff person if you woke tomorrow and one was provided? Sadly, most people, if they were handed a staff person tomorrow, would not know what to do with them. In theory, they think it would be awesome, but in practicality, they would be fumbling around and end up misusing the gift and investment of a full-time staff person.

Do you want a full-time staff member to be working with you? Before receiving that gift, you must first learn the process by which you would need to lead that full-time staff. Treat the volunteer staff that you currently have as if they were paid employees. Create and execute high-end meeting agendas, bring them to quarterly off-site meetings, and enlist their help in annual long-range planning meetings. Create the structures in your ministry, right now, that will support a full-time staff down the road.

Start now, start strong, and treat the volunteers that you currently have as if they were the staff team that you want to have in five years. You will be surprised at what God might provide.