The Spiritual Care and Nurture of Volunteers

In this article we will discuss the following three key questions: 1) How do you recruit volunteers? 2) What qualities are *you looking for in a volunteer? 3) What kind of jobs do you give to volunteers?

A Foundation for Volunteer Ministry

However, before jumping into the practical nature of volunteer recruitment and retention, I think it would be best to establish a spiritual foundation upon which to build our approach to volunteer ministry. It is simple to place a blurb in the Sunday bulletin or on the church website, but to really spiritually invest in our volunteers our philosophy of ministry to our volunteers must be crystal clear in our own minds.

There are only so many hours in a day and our own families need to see us once in a while, too. This may be the starting place for many as they approach the recruitment of volunteers. Perhaps you have been prodded by their pastor or elders to delegate some of what you do in order that what you personally do might be done with greater focus and quality. There might even be a more magnanimous purpose to volunteer recruitment as you desire to share the joy of ministry to students and families that you experience. Regardless of your original motives, I would like to challenge your thinking to move from one focused on the task at hand to the spiritual care and nurture of the volunteer over and above the tasks they are being recruited for.

Value Added Volunteering

I began a few years ago talking in terms of “value added volunteering”. What I mean by this is that the attitude of me toward my volunteers should be more about them than about those they minister to. As an example, at the National Youth Gathering in 2010 the congregation I was serving sent a group of 52 youth and adults to New Orleans. Naturally, in order to even provide quality and safe management of such a group, I had to share the load. However, I had a critical choice to make in how that load was shared. Was I going to truly empower the volunteer parents and other adults who journeyed with us or was I simply going to focus on the pragmatic herding of students from one location to another across the country and around town?

In order to empower my ministry team at the NYG I needed to keep a pair of critical things in mind: 1) Their talents, abilities and passions, and 2) Their own spiritual growth. When putting the team together, I needed to focus on creating just the right mix of personalities and talents. I had to keep in mind that we needed not only night owls, but also morning people (really this is just to compensate for me). We needed extroverts and introverts. We needed feelers and thinkers. We needed folks who are sensing oriented and folks who are intuitive. There was a need for folks with a heart and passion for the spiritual needs of the youth as well as those with organizational skills to handle logistics details like travel and food. What we ended up with was a group that included two long time youth counselors, the pastor, a travel agent and his wife (who handled all the food), a young man in his mid-twenties who was developing a college/young adult ministry with his wife, and two moms. My role for the trip was to care for the spiritual and emotional needs of these folks so that they in turn were in the best position to care for the youth at the NYG.

So now to apply this to our core questions:

How do you recruit volunteers?

If we take seriously the idea that we are seeking to add value to the spiritual lives of those we recruit, then we must begin by seeking to truly come to know potential volunteers at some depth. In larger congregations this can become a real time challenge, but I believe a necessary one, if we are to do more than just find a body to fill a position.

In as much as we are to focus on the position we are seeking to fill, we must focus just as much if not more on the character, skills, hopes, dreams and time of life of the volunteers we seek to recruit. We thus need to be in a constant informal volunteer search. We as leaders in the church should be engaging all members of our congregations with an eye toward how we might engage them in service of Christ and His church. Notice I did not say recruit to volunteer. If our focus is on releasing folks in our churches to ministry suited to their own personality and vision of themselves, then we are doing much more than just recruiting a volunteer for a task. In this way we are able to truly minister to the person whom we engage in their own service to the church.

So how is this done? Find the ways in which you can meet with and get to know people in your congregation. You should connect with new members classes, adult Bible classes, any learning, service or fellowship activity in which you can spend time learning about the passions of people. Then spend the time making notes on what you learned so that when you have a need arise you have a file of information on the people of your church that you can use to find just the right person for the need.

What qualities are you looking for in a volunteer?

The character of the individual volunteer is central. A volunteer can have the right skill set but lack the right temperament or right servant heart and be a disaster. You can use the concept of the “fruit of the spirit” from Galatians 5:22-23, as well as the proceeding “works of the flesh,” as a prism through which to gauge the spiritual maturity and character of potential volunteers.

Love – Is the love of Christ evident in their lives? What tangible evidence can you see of how they love those you seek to connect them with in their volunteer service?

Joy – Do they exhibit the joy of Christ in how they worship and serve around the church?

Peace – Is there a peace about them as they deal with the challenges of life?

Patience – Are they patient by nature or do they get their feathers ruffled easily?

Kindness – Do they exhibit a kind heart that seeks the needs of others before their own?

Goodness – Is it evident that they walk with God and have made His goodness their own?

Faithfulness – Are they faithful in their devotion to Christ? Are they faithful in what they say they will do?

Gentleness – Do they in their speech and actions treat others with gentleness and respect even when in disagreements?

Self-control – Does their life give evidence of their ability to control sinful desires?

Now naturally no one this side of heaven will manage all these with perfection. I am not positing a form of legalism for volunteers, but rather a standard by which we can determine if potential servants in Christ’s church are seeking through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to grow in Christ-likeness and struggle through the sinner that remains.

What kind of jobs do you give to volunteers?

Another way of looking at this question is to find what is essential to your ministry and what roles within that ministry can be handed off appropriately. A principle that I have heard Andy Stanley talk about is that you determine those core elements that no one else should be doing, because they are by definition central to your role in ministry and get everything else off your plate. In Stanley’s ministry this means that he is responsible for preaching and leadership (vision work) and not much beyond. His ministry approach pushes the responsibility of the many other details that go into making his congregation work to other staff or volunteers.

In my example of the NYG above, I retained the teaching of the group, big picture leadership in determining what would take place on a given day (the limits of what the family groups were allowed to choose to do on their own) and ultimate spiritual care for the entire group (directly to the other adults and indirectly through those adults to the youth). In this way I was able to set the tone before, during and following the event as the leader, but was able to turn over large portions of the details that otherwise would have distracted me from the overall big picture of our time in New Orleans. For example if I was choosing the group menu for our meals I would not be making best use of my time, but I did have to help determine when meals would take place so that the group could be fed in time for the core essential activities of the day.

The spiritual care and nurture of your volunteer staff is of paramount importance when you consider bringing people on board to share with you in serving Christ’s Kingdom. Focusing on value-added volunteerism can help us as leaders to put the person ahead of the project and place Christ central in all that we do in the church and beyond.

Published May 15, 2012

About the author

Dr. Dave Rueter has been in DCE Ministry for more than 20 years. He currently serves on staff at Our Savior, Livermore, CA. He is husband to Andrea and father to James and Wesley. Dave is the author of Teaching the Faith at Home and Called to Serve both from CPH.
View more from Dave

Related Resources

Why Build Resilient Youth in Youth Ministry?

Why Build Resilient Youth in Youth Ministry?

What is a resilient identity in Christ and why is it important for a healthy youth ministry? Check out this blog from the Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry to find out more.

The Habits That We Make – Fundraising

The Habits That We Make – Fundraising

Should youth ministry, or any other ministry for that matter, rely on fundraising to significantly support their ministry functions? Sometimes the habits of fundraising get youth ministry into trouble. This article is designed to help you think more strategically about fundraising.

The Habits That We Make: Parents

The Habits That We Make: Parents

We all have harmful habits, even in our churches. This article helps us think about how we might have habits where parents are not growing in their own Biblical education or even expecting the church and its workers to be the primary teachers of the Christian faith for their children. By identifying these kinds of habits, we can see how we might change them.

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Change or Experience?

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Change or Experience?

As youth workers, we need to remember that this cohort that experienced the COVID pandemic during their younger years experienced it differently than adults. Through research, Dr. Tina Berg has been able to identify key learnings that can help us care for young people, particularly confirmands, in the wake of the pandemic.

The Habits That We Make – Isolation

The Habits That We Make – Isolation

We all have habits, some intentionally developed and others not. Knowing our habits in ministry can be important. For example, we may tend to isolate kids and/or youth from the rest of the congregation. This article talks about how to identify this habit and push against it.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How do I know if our youth ministry program is healthy and properly caring for our teens?

Discover how you can enhance your youth ministry and serve the youth in your church with Seven Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry.

Share This