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Setting the Table

So my four-year old daughter has recently decided that it will be her responsibility to set the table for dinners at home.  It’s great that she wants the responsibility.  I love that she feels useful that it makes her proud to have a role.  I also really love my floors and my plates.  It’s not that she’s bad at setting the table, it’s just that every time a fork falls or a glass is just a little too close to the edge of the table, I hold my breath.  I just want things done quickly and safely, and I know that it would be easier to just do it all myself.

As I watched Isabel setting the table, I could not help but think of how often I want to just do things myself.  I was the kid in the school project groups who would tell the group on the first day that I would just take care of the project and they could put their names on it.  I am the kind of guy who looks at advertisements and thinks that I could have come up with a better approach, despite the fact that I have no marketing experience whatsoever.  Maybe you are not as bad as I am, but you too may find it easier to just do things yourself.

I must admit that I don’t make great use of my volunteers.  I am the primary person in most programs.  My volunteers in many ways are subjected to support roles.  This is basically because I just want to set up my table myself.  I know what I want my programs to look like.  I know how I want the material used.  This is a big area of ministry where I need to grow.

Having worked with volunteers for several years in different contexts, I have noticed some trends as to why volunteers  are under-valued and under-utilized.

  1. Using volunteers means being extra prepared.  You can’t wing it if you want someone else to do it.
  2. Using volunteers takes trust.  If you don’t trust your volunteers to do a good enough job, you probably have not trained them well enough or they are serving in the wrong context.
  3. Using volunteers makes you feel like you are not doing your job.  It’s easy to think that you should do everything because you are paid to do be the minister.
  4. Using volunteers requires volunteers.  The problem could be that the process of using volunteers got stuck at the recruitment stage.
While using volunteers is more work and more of a headache, it is so very worth it.  Here are a few reasons:
  1. You take the stress off of yourself.  So many youth workers quit because the task is too overwhelming.  Without delegating, the demands of ministry can eat your schedule and kill your passion for seeing the Gospel proclaimed.
  2. You make yourself less necessary.  When or if you leave, if you have not established a healthy volunteer force, that ministry will decline.  Imagine for a minute if you left tomorrow, what would be impossible for your church to do?  What would suffer?
  3. You allow people to hear other voices.  There are people that you and I simply cannot relate to.  I can’t do girl talk.  I can’t do Star Wars talk.  I can’t speak to certain people’s experiences as well as other people who have shared those experiences can speak to them.  You honor people by allowing them to see that there are even more people who care about them.
  4. You multiply creativity.  I’d love to think that I have all of the answers, but the truth is that I need other perspectives on how we do things.  I need to hear from parents and people from other walks of life who can give us a more robust approach to ministry.
Part of me thinks that even our use of the term volunteers is one of our issues with volunteers.  People are volunteering, but they are also taking on an enormous responsibility–to bring students to Christ and disciple them.  Already we have started talking about our Fall Retreat team and our Wednesday night team.  This serves as just a little reminder that without these people playing their part, the whole ministry team suffers.  I am on a journey to raise up other ministers.  It may more work, but I am coming to understand that I am not the only one who can set the table.
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