Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Volunteer Dating Period

With the fall season upon us, recruiting new volunteers in youth ministry becomes increasingly prevalent. There can be a sense of urgency with getting volunteers. You want to have the new leaders equipped and ready before the busyness of fall sets in, and you need someone now. Many leaders' response to this urgency is to put something in the bulletin calling for more volunteers, or to ask the closest warm body if they'd be willing to help. What usually results is the wrong person in the wrong ministry, which is potentially more destructive than not having a volunteer at all.

So how can this be avoided? Try a dating period. Here's the process I undergo with recruiting volunteers:

Pray. Instead of desperately trying to make a volunteer team on my own, I've learned to take the path of prayer, asking God to reveal and bring the right people at the right time, discerning his voice in the process and allowing myself to trust him with his timing. And his timing usually isn't mine; I'd prefer to go much quicker, get things done, and move on. Prayer forces me to slow down and make Spirit-led decisions instead of Joel-driven decisions.

Explain your values and expectations very clearly. Once God brings a potential volunteer across my path, we'll have a conversation where I get to know their story and background. I'll also explain my entire philosophy of ministry, along with the values and expectations I have for every volunteer. This sometimes scares people away, but I've found that those who are intimidated by the values and expectations probably weren't a good fit in the first place.

The dating period. Have a 4-6 week dating period for people to "check out" the ministry before bringing them on all the way. They are visiting the program, meeting students and other volunteers, and seeing what it's really like. As a leader, I'm also observing how well they live up to the expectations I've presented (is he really as available as he said?) and watching where their gifts and passions emerge (she seems really drawn to the freshman girls small group). This is also a deeply intentional season of prayer, asking the Lord for His guidance in the process.

Get engaged. After dating, I'll sit down with the volunteer and have a second conversation about where they see this heading. When they have a better understanding of what the ministry is like, the volunteer can make a clear commitment to the ministry (and the ministry to the volunteer). If things haven't been working out for either of us, we can lovingly part ways, with me usually redirecting them to another potential ministry opportunity in the church.

I seriously LOVE my volunteer team. We've locked arms together and are doing some amazing ministry in the lives of students. It makes me glad I dated all of them first.

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