The Mistakes of Coaxing Volunteers (and Fixes)

When’s the last time you volunteered your (unpaid) time to something or someone? Did you do it reluctantly? Or excitedly?

I speculate if you volunteered your time with any level of excitement it was because the person asking compelled you to serve. They presented it as a calling and did it in a compelling nature.

Recruiting volunteers is difficult work (that’s probably true of all volunteer recruiting efforts, but particularly in a church). But I think recruitment can be eased with a little work on the front end by the recruiters.

Cajoling vs Compelling (the already called)

Often we resort to cajoling or arm twisting. And from time to time, for one-time or short-term volunteer needs, the coaxing methodology suffices. But the volunteering doesn’t typically last.

Others of us tend to fill our volunteer slots through convicting messages. We play the prophet role and convict them into volunteering. We proof text scripture to help our convicting message or we just plain convict them with guilt. This method often leads to ministry volunteers who serve reluctantly, guilt-ridden and without joy.

But what if we could match their calling with a compelling need?

How can we be a part of them discovering their calling from God? A volunteer opportunity matches their hard wiring, their calling from Jesus, and a compelling need.

A compelling opportunity doesn’t have to be sexy or a fun assignment, per se. But it should show how their service can make a difference. People want to know their role will play a part in a bigger Kingdom initiative.

If you can compel them, how do you keep them?

Once you compel them, then you need to consider how to keep them. How do we ensure they stay connected? Retention takes ongoing work.

If you’ve already compelled them with a clear and compelling vision, then it’ll take coaching and celebration (I really only had to work to get the last “c” word).

We have a bad habit of getting volunteers in place, and basically leaving them there. We background check them, give them a name badge and implicitly, if not explicitly, say “good luck.”

Coaching and Celebrating

People are willing to take on challenges, even in volunteer roles if they believe the persons who lead them will coach and resource them. Volunteering time is a sacrifice, but volunteering when you feel unequipped and left on an island is punishment and people won’t take it for long.

Coaching is not a onetime thing. It can’t be limited to our cleverly themed annual volunteer meetings. It will require ongoing training and development (a pipeline of leadership training).

And as they serve with you, celebrate. Celebrate them and their work. But also celebrate the fruit of their work. Pause and make sure they know how God is using them and your church.

Retention of volunteers means we continue to compel them to service. It means ongoing coaching and it means celebrating what God’s doing. And that leads straight back to them seeing themselves as a part of that compelling vision you gave them.

So, next time you make the “volunteer ask” of someone, in advance ask yourself, “Will I be compelling them or cajoling them? Will I try to match their calling with a role, or force them to fill my biggest volunteer need?”

Calling and competencies left in our churches parking lots

I’m pretty convinced every Sunday people drive into our church parking lots who have been called by Jesus, been made capable by Jesus, but not yet been compelled to being on mission with Jesus. Other days of the week, they function as high caliber, caring, and committed people. But at church, they pull into their parking spot and basically leave all they have to offer in their car as they walk into our churches.

Part of that is on them and between God and them. Yet, part of that is on us. My guess is that if we were helping them to discover their calling and compelling them toward a vision that includes their service, well, they’d bring all of who God called them to be bear on our churches.

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Shadow Working: Who’s Getting the Credit?

Some of our successes will be in the shadows of others. And figuring out how to respond well to “shadow working” is key to effective leadership.

Just this past Sunday, a professional golfer named Brooks Koepka won one of the four biggest golf tournaments of the year, the PGA Championship.  It’s his second Major win this year and it earned him $2 million in prize money. Yet, most of the attention after the golf tournament was given to another. Koepka’s win was in the shadow of another golfer he just beat at golf, yep, Tiger Woods.

Yes, Koepka did get to hold up the trophy and he got to bank some $2 million dollars. But what must it have felt like to be the best golfer on the course, and every time you hit a ball, spectators were leaving the hole you were playing to try to make their way to get a glimpse of another?

On our best days, we’ll embrace Jesus’ teaching of “the last shall be first,” and maybe believe what my friend Todd Adkins says, that “A big part of leadership is recognizing that your fruit often grows on other people’s trees.” Those are both true. But some days shadow working is going to sting. Those days when like Koepka, you were the best performer, problems-solver, minister, or contributor, and yet, someone else gets the fanfare?

Shadow working is going to happen. It’s going to happen despite your contribution being the best contribution given. Or despite your efforts being the reason the project happened. Or despite the idea being yours. Or despite the music in the worship gathering being impactful because of the work and prayers you put into it; there will be others who, at times, will get the appreciation, limelight and accolades.

God created you to be exactly who He wanted you to be. And when we’re working in God’s given design, the work and opportunity He’s given should be all you need. But there are days when the person with the bigger personality, the bigger platform (literally or figuratively), or has regaled history will cast a shadow on your work and it won’t feel great.

So, here are some ways to manage the feelings of shadow working—

  • Assume the best…that the person who has the spotlight isn’t trying to take it away from you, it’s just some people naturally attract attention.
  • Manage your expectations…some work is meant to be shadow work. And that kind of work will create limited appreciation. So, don’t expect a parade when your role, at best, will get you a pat on the back.
  • Understand who God called you to be…and if God’s design means you’re in the shadows of others, well, relish that you are getting to do exactly what God has given you to do.
  • Cast light on others…don’t be a bitter shadow worker. Celebrate the work, and even celebrate whatever contribution the other worker is getting. The golfer Koepka understood this. In his post-round interviews Koepka celebrated Tiger Woods and acknowledged why the fans would leave him to flock to Tiger and what he was doing on the course. It’s easier to allow others to have the limelight when your value is determined by a God that loves you with our without your contributions.

I’ve received public credit for work that was done by others. And I’ve also watched others get credit for work I had done. And there’s been times I believe my contribution was the most valuable contribution, but because another person had performance history, an established platform, or just a winsome personality, they got the attention. And on my best days, I’m over it quickly. On others, well, I’ve needed to manage around it. So, if you’re a shadow worker, manage around any entitlement feelings; and most of all, my hope is your value is determined by our loving God.

 

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Expressed permission to “Get Back!”

Who’s telling you to “get back!”? Who has the authority to step in and tell you to “step back” from something you’re doing?

You’ve likely seen it, but you may not know what it’s called. Or actually, what the person is called. Most college and professional football teams have a “get back coach.” During the week they have another role with the team (strength and conditioning coach or maybe a linebackers’ coach). But on game day, they have the charge to keep over-zealous players and coaches off the playing field (who aren’t supposed to be on field).

Why? Well people get hurt on football sidelines when they venture too far out. Also, their team can get penalized for crossing into the marked box where referees and players are roaming.

In a very odd scene, you have a head football coach who’s flailing and yelling on the sideline, and at the same time, inching closer and closer to the game action. And then behind him, you have the “get back coach.” And for some coaches prone to wander, the “get back coach” is literally touching him at all times or within grabbing distance at all times. He’s ready to grab the coach’s waistband and pull him back.

All this to help the wandering coach avoid injury for himself or a penalty for the team.

Who in your life has the authority to metaphorically grab your waistband and put you back into place? Who’s keeping you from harming yourself or the “team” (church) you lead?

“Get Back” Situations

If you were to make a distasteful comment in a meeting that most people would choose to ignore because you’re the boss, who’s going to come to you directly and let you know you crossed a line? What if you lingered too long after church talking to a member of the opposite sex who’s not your spouse? Who can pull you aside and let you know you ventured out too far? If in an email you wrote a sentence that caused harm to others or was mean-spirited, who’s going to tell you it was too much?

Who can tell you the last 2% and not fear retribution? Who loves you enough to be a truth-teller?

Expressed Permission

We may think we already have “get back” people in our life. But they’re not official or effective until you’ve given them expressed permission to speak bluntly to you. They’ve got to have permission to figuratively, or literally, pull you back by your waistband to avoid harm to yourself or the areas and people you lead.

When’s the last time someone you trust confronted you and told you to “get back?” If it’s been awhile, you’ve either not arranged for this coaching in your life or you’re not prone to wander. My guess, you’ve not yet given someone permission to help you when you can’t see you need “get back” help.

If you don’t give this permission, most people won’t do it. And this is especially true for those of us who are clergy and/or have tenure or positional authority. There’s a natural tendency toward being perceived as untouchable or “unchallengeable.” You’ve got to ask for it, and then when one of your “get back coaches” grabs you by the waistband, well, heed their warning.

If head football coaches making millions of dollars a year put a “get back coach” in place just to help avoid 15 yard penalties, than maybe as church and family leaders we should realize our stakes are much higher and we should put them in place too.

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