Leadership Insight: Volunteerism

By Eddy Ekmekji

An element of doing leadership in ministry is that we are often leading people who are volunteering. People are giving their time and energy beyond their other responsibilities. In my case, I am leading people and calling people into leadership who also have to contend with academics, family, and jobs.

Most of the resources and books on leadership tend to focus on the business world, with metrics that measure success along business lines. In business, a supervisor can give financial incentives for people to perform at a higher level. We can’t (or don’t/shouldn’t) do that in ministry.

Leading “volunteers” is difficult because they have less incentive to stay. If someone did not like our vision or my leadership, she could leave and join another campus ministry or perhaps leave the faith altogether. I have had several experiences in the last ten years where someone in my leadership influence walked away. Some organizations and churches may employ pressure tactics and manipulation to make it more difficult for people to leave, but not only does that violate basic Biblical principles, it rarely works in the long run.

As the church, we do have a rich history of the power of volunteerism. The Church is built on the back of “volunteers.” And though the model of church congregations and leadership shortly after World War 2 tended to focus on a pastor doing all the work while the congregation consumed the product that the pastor produced, the tide is turning with more focus on the congregation doing the ministry of God.

For example, at the church I grew up in, the bulletin cites the various leaders of the church. It begins with “Ministers: The entire church”. I think what’s helpful of the emerging church movement is that (at it’s best) it focuses on a community of people doing the work of God rather than focusing on a paid pastor to do that work.

What I am learning about leading volunteers is that there still needs to be an incentive for a volunteer to lead. And that incentive is not monetary or anything that I can offer, but it is God and the goodness of God. In my leadership, I have to create space for people to hear from God and to be excited for the things of God. The best accountability then comes in their desire to know God deeper rather than in anything I can offer them to do their best.

Second, I am learning to listen to people. It is easier for me to set forth my agenda of how I want people to “step up” than to hear how they want to minister. When I create space to hear what moves people and how they want their lives to matter, it allows me to come alongside them and help them articulate and discern God’s calling on their life.

Third, I am learning to learn more about leadership from the organization that knows how to empower volunteers–the church. A couple years ago, Bill Hybels wrote The Volunteer Revolution. But the revolution has been happening for the last 2000 years. One of my historical mentors has been John Wesley. His ministry is but one example of the ways someone empowered volunteers to ministry and bring transformation to their society.

Praise God for the disciples of past, present and future who love Jesus and the mission of God far more than any incentive that could be offered to them!