By Martha Andres
Volunteers in any area of the Church face a difficult and sometimes thankless task. Fortunately, the rewards volunteering can bring often override the frustrations and hardships. In this short article, Martha Andres, a long time volunteer, offers her perspective on how volunteers can avoid becoming overwhelmed and burnt out while on their individual ministry journeys.
Volunteering for me evolved over a number of years. Soon after I married a lifetime Lutheran, I became an adult confirmed member of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. My vocation was teaching in the public schools, so before long I was asked to teach Sunday school. My husband and I then became counselors for our congregation’s Walther League (the former name of today’s Lutheran youth groups in Synodical congregations). In a few years we had our own little “youth group” at home with the births of a daughter and a son, so I began volunteering in the LWML and in our congregation’s school as a room mother. Serving in these volunteer opportunities helped me get to know my fellow church members and learn more about the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. I served as an officer in the LWML and volunteered for the planning committee for the District convention scheduled in our city of San Antonio. Again, this brought me in contact with other Lutheran women and people in the local community. It afforded me the opportunity to share our church body’s mission among the many people with whom I had contact.
In 1982, the National Youth Gathering was held in San Antonio. I volunteered to help in the Experiential area. I learned for the first time what a NYG was and it was a great experience. In 1995, the NYG returned to San Antonio, so I volunteered to assist the called workers and pastors as the Local Arrangements Manager for the Gathering. This was a challenging and positive learning experience for me. I have helped in volunteer positions with all of the subsequent Gatherings, including Beyond Imagination in 2004.
When a person volunteers so much time and energy, there is a danger of volunteer burnout. I have found that staying active and connected in my home congregation keeps me grounded as I volunteer. The volunteer positions outside my congregation are secondary to Bible class, Worship and Bible study. Plus, the volunteer tasks usually come in waves. If they were constant, I think I would have a difficult time keeping multiple tasks afloat. God seems to know when I have a full load even if I do not always realize it. He takes care of me.
It also helps to delegate some tasks that I am asked to do on to others and to do some mentoring and sharing in order to pass on the skills I have learned. No one is indispensable; when he begins to think he is, this is a red flag to reevaluate his reason for volunteering and his load of volunteer tasks.
If you do begin to feel burnout as a volunteer, do not underestimate the power of prayer. When you feel overextended, stressed, or weary, call on God for help. Even better, do not wait until you reach your breaking point to ask God for help. Enlist Him as your partner from the beginning to the completion of your volunteer commitment. “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13. Let your volunteering be a response to God’s love for you, and do it to glorify only Him.
Martha Andres, a longtime volunteer, serves the congregation of Crown of Life Lutheran in San Antonio, Texas. She was also a member of the Personal Services team for the 2004 National LCMS Youth Gathering.