Equipping Faithful Volunteers
Adapted from Helping Without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry.
Imagine: You’ve laid out your plans for a new outreach or mercy ministry at your church or you’ve gotten your parachurch organization off the ground and are ready to begin offering programs. You’ve got your mission, vision, and values mapped out and a strong biblical vision of God’s heart for the materially poor at the core of your ministry design. You may even have a budget and ample funds to begin making significant investment.
It’s usually at this point, though, that you’ll discover that the scarcest resource of all is volunteers who are willing to walk well with people over time. How are you going to find, equip, encourage and retain volunteers to assist in this long term ministry?
Start with Leaders
Discipling a whole congregation to understand the biblical mandate to care for the poor and the relational nature of poverty is a big job—way beyond the scope of a ministry coordinator (who may also be a volunteer!). Getting your pastor and church leaders involved is crucial. You may be in a decision-making role where you can influence the direction of your ministry, or you may have to follow a process and make your case to the key leaders.
Focus on Prayer
Be realistic about the fact that one motivated crusader doesn’t necessarily make a movement and make prayer a major focus of this work.
Healing the brokenness of material poverty is God’s job. The Holy Spirit is the one who motivates and sustains all of our ministry, not our human efforts. So ask God to change hearts and minds as you faithfully bring up these issues. That being said, there are some practical things that we can do to remove roadblocks that keep people from serving.
Extend Person Invitations
Don’t just expect people to sign up for a ministry like this after reading a line in the bulletin. And when you invite people, take an open stance that encourages them to learn and ask questions. Expect to explain and redefine this vision of poverty alleviation multiple times. Be patient and pray for those who don’t seem to be getting it but also be clear that some people may not be cut out for this work. You have to be honest and upfront about what it entails.
As you’re trying to get things off the ground, don’t forget that your church probably already has many ministries and many volunteers for those ministries, some of which you may not even be aware of. So don’t assume that people are lazy or uninterested just because they haven’t responded to your invitation.
You may have to get creative. It could be that existing ministries can be brought under the umbrella of a new and improved poverty alleviation ministry at your church. Are any of them experiencing challenges that working together might help resolve? But tread lightly and be gracious. You may find that you encounter a few sacred cows that will require some wisdom to navigate. It’s very helpful to do a church inventory to find out all the different things going on before you attempt to recruit more volunteers. You may be surprised and encouraged by what you find. So may God bless you with creativity, patience, and the right volunteer that you need for this work.
Train Them Well
Before allowing someone to serve, you want to be clear about the time, commitments, and training they’ll need to undergo. You also need to be clear about what poverty alleviation ministry is and is not. Sometimes this work draws people who want to “fix” poor people and come in with all the answers. This is not the attitude you need from your volunteers. We use the term allies to describe the feel you want these long term relationships to have.
In this role, you need volunteers who are encouraged to be in the trenches for the long haul. The key thing is to recognize that this work is good, but often difficult. Preparing people to serve well is an act of love, both for your volunteers and for the people your church is serving.
If you could use support as you do the work of developing a benevolence ministry for your church or organization, check out our training, Helping Without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry. In this program, we’ll walk you through the process of:
- Laying the foundation for your ministry
- Gathering a team to help you
- Creating processes to support (or improve) your benevolence ministry
- Developing the skills and confidence to apply a biblical framework for poverty alleviation to your benevolence ministry