Volunteers and (not or) Discipleship

Each week church leaders feel the weight of responsibility for two important facets of their ministry roles. First, they desire to disciple people in the church, to develop people the Lord has called them to serve. Second, they have the responsibility of  “pulling off church” this week. The kid’s ministry, student program, weekend services, and mission activity won’t happen without the help of others, without volunteers engaged in the ministry.

Sometimes these two responsibilities are viewed as polarizing opposites, as if we are confronted with the choice of either (a) discipling someone or (b) recruiting a volunteer to serve. Viewing “discipleship” and “volunteer engagement” as completely distinct from one another, however, is an unhelpful false dichotomy. People can be discipled through volunteer engagement. 

In the research behind Transformational Discipleship, we discovered that people are most likely to grow spiritually when godly leaders apply the truth of God to their hearts while they are in a teachable posture. Growth takes place when there is a holy intersection of truth, posture, and leaders.

When someone volunteers for a ministry, the person is placed in a teachable posture. He is given the opportunity to experience God working through him to serve others and to develop an external vantage point. The overwhelming moments of leading a group for the first time, of attempting to connect with a group of kids or students, or of engaging in a mission project can place a person in a dependent posture – where he senses his need for the Lord.

In other words, inviting someone to volunteer is inviting that person into a teachable posture. But the teachable posture must be accompanied with a godly leader applying the truth of God to the heart. Without the truth and godly leaders reproducing themselves in others, all the church has is volunteers accomplishing tasks. But when godly leaders apply the truth to the hearts of volunteers, discipleship is occurring.

Instead of viewing discipleship and recruiting/working with volunteers as two disparate roles, understand that you can simultaneously disciple and engage volunteers. For church leadership teams, here are three practical applications:

1)    Make the “ask.”

Instead of relying solely on announcements from the stage or in the bulletin, form relationships with people in the church and invite them to serve. Do so with a holy confidence that you are inviting people into a posture that the Lord will use to bring about transformation.

2)    Apply the truth of the gospel to your teams.

Remind the people that they are serving because He has first served us, not because we are attempting to earn His love or even pay Him back for His love (there is no way to pay back). If you lead a team of volunteers in the hospitality ministry, remind them that Christ first welcomed us. If you lead a team in the worship ministry, remind them of the joy of celebrating who He is and what He has done for us through Christ. If you lead a team in the kid’s ministry, remind them God’s kingdom is ultimately for children, for those of us who trust Him as our Father. And so on …

3)    Place the volunteers under healthy leaders.

Your role as a church leader is not to do all the ministry but to train God’s people to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). As people are invited into ministry, they must be placed under the care of healthy leaders. If you are directly leading the volunteers, ensure that you are healthy as people reproduce their leaders. If you have built layers of leadership in your ministry department or church, by God’s grace, do all you can to place volunteers under healthy leaders.