Removing Hurdles to Volunteer Involvement

A number of years ago, a volunteer, Marybeth, a nursing instructor at Elmira College in upstate New York, led her ministry on campus. She saw steady growth over several years. At its high water mark, 125 were involved (over 10% of the student body), there were Bible studies in all dorms, they led a prayer vigil on campus with 600 attending, 74 attended the winter conference, several went on summer missions with one becoming the student project director, and one came on staff.

We’ve been talking about involving volunteers in our ministry for several years. Oh to have more Marybeths join with us!

But, there are some realities for volunteers that we may not be aware of. And we’ll need to be intentional about removing hurdles to involvement.

Some realities for volunteers

Volunteers have far less discretionary time than students and staff. Most not only work 40+ hour per week, but they have to figure in commute time. They get groceries or run errands between classes or appointments. Instead, much of what they have to do personally, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, etc. take place outside of work and commuting hours, cutting even more into their discretionary time.

For new employees work schedules can change. Different shifts, different supervisors, and even different jobs can impact their availability. It doesn’t mean they’re flakey. It’s simply the reality that they don’t have as much control over their time as we staff do.

They have more primary relationships. She has her job. If she’s married, her spouse is also working, and it’s likely they’re on two different schedules. They naturally will want time together.

Other important relationships may also take precedence.

Relationship building and progress on personal goals is slower than it was when they were on campus. Going deeper quickly is a rarity. That’s often a big surprise for those who were involved as students. Even their own spiritual development and adherence to spiritual disciplines can be challenging. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t spiritual, but life is now more complicated, and even fuzzier.

Often they find they are at a loss as to how to spiritually approach happy hour or board meetings. There is no handbook for connecting with co-workers. They can’t namedrop Jesus with co-workers. So we might wonder if they struggle to have a ministry in the marketplace, why we would take them on as a volunteer with us?

Removing Hurdles

But the truth of the matter is, that we haven’t made it easy for potential volunteers to engage with us.

Some of what we do is not always the most efficient use of time. That’s not bad.  Relational connections often comes at the expense of efficiency. But we must remember that volunteers may not have the luxury of time that we do. If we ask them to commit to a certain number of hours or to do a task a certain way, we might be making the hurdle too high for involvement.

And yet, the wisdom, the experience, the maturity that they bring is invaluable and worth our figuring out how to make it possible for them to be involved.

Volunteers want to make a significant difference. Many just don’t want to bake cookies or give to a scholarship. They can disciple or mentor leaders; they value imparting their lives into others. The lessons they learned during their involvement will guide others as they take on God’s purpose for their lives. We might have to think smarter, and differently if we want to make volunteer involvement easier.

After reading this, you might think it just isn’t worth it to involve volunteers. Please don’t give up yet. Volunteers can help you make an incredible difference in the spiritual development of your leaders. Some of them can do those things that eat our lunch; some would do those things we just love to do ourselves. But it will take intellectual flexibility on our part to involve them.

I watched how Marybeth took time with her student leaders. They loved her, and she loved ministering to them. It was no secret why her ministry flourished under her leadership. Marybeth modeled involvement as a priority in her career that we hope our students will exemplify when they graduate and enter the marketplace. And frankly, she modeled this in a way that we staff cannot model. Figuring out how to involve volunteers will help us see more laborers raised up for the Kingdom. And that’s why we do what we do in the first place.

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