Pastoring Ministry Volunteers, Part 2


I want it now! Image

In part one, we talked about how volunteers come with a story. This story shapes their expectations more than they realize. To pastor volunteers begins with managing expectations and helping future volunteers see the beauty as well as the difficulties they may unwittingly bring to a team.

Our next step is to clearly name how the consumer inside each one of us can damage our view regarding how to use our gifts and why we use them. Let’s take a look. 

“Getting what I want, how I want it and when I want it so that I can constantly present an image of my best self to the world” can infect our view of what it means for us to use our gifts in a church and devastate the Jesus centered purpose and relational dynamics of a ministry team.

What is a consumer? a person who purchases goods and services for personal use

At its worst, how does being a consumer damage using our gifts in Church?

  • It labels us customers
  • It purposes church for our personal agenda, individual preferences and private use
  • Without thinking about it, a church volunteer becomes a person who provides goods and services that will keep our tithing customers happy by never making them go without their personal preferences being met.

What pressure can this place on you as a volunteer on a ministry team?

Since companies with customers must find the most efficient or strategic ways to produce excellent products in large quantities as fast as possible in order to keep the preferences and tastes of our customers satisfied, As a ministry volunteer, I can take on these values and feel these pressures to never let anyone down according to their definitions of being let down.

The result? A volunteer has to deal with demanding statements like these, as if the church is a restaurant for our order, rather than a family that we belong to and join in with.

  • I’m taking my children out of your volunteer ministry until you fix what is broken about the efficiency of the program.
  • I can’t believe the powerpoint presentation went awry. This is unprofessional and lacks excellence. I won’t visit your church again.
  • I want a house group that meets on Tuesday nights after 7:30pm in my local neighborhood. When can you make that happen?

The hidden consumer inside of us invites us to write email’s like this one: 

Dear Ministry Leader, I am interested in attending your church this week for the first time.  I know its Monday already, but I‘d appreciate it if we can meet this week to talk about your vision and mission. Let me know a good time for you. I’d also like to know this week how I can be a part of serving the church in general and your ministry in particular. I have lots of experience and would like to get plugged in right away to help. 

This email is kind and tame. Compared to many others it is a blessing! But notice that these dear folks have never visited the church and yet they assume that the ministry leader can meet with them immediately. They also assume that your ministry agenda is about the church’s mission and vision rather than our personal stories as human beings and our history as a church. So, without realizing it, they just assume that they don’t have to know you and you don’t have to know them in order for them to immediately help you in your ministry as a fellow leader and server.

None of this is wrong in itself. But by itself it reveals the goods and services mentality that a lot of us are blind to. In the past I would have rearranged my entire schedule if need be to meet with these folks. Or I would have put immediate pressure on our volunteer teams to act. But not anymore.

Now, with such a note we can (1) respond the next day by email, (2) Name our values: We are tempted to do large things famously and fast but at this church we are vigorously pursing what it means to do small mostly overlooked things over a long period of time. (3) We can offer a way for conversation even though it is too late in the week and my personal schedule as a leader is already booked. For example, we can mention two volunteer leaders of our hospitality ministry who’d love to answer questions they might have, (4) We can suggest that our administrator will contact them to set up a time for us to meet and that meanwhile (5) We look forward to meeting them on Sunday.

Volunteer leaders and teams need us pastors to defend them and equip them to gently but wisely navigate the consumer pressures of large, immediate, efficient and famous, that people place upon them. Particularly when those persons do not yet see the value of they themselves pitching in to lend a hand.

The Consumer Assumption lingers within the Volunteer too!

We help volunteers realize that they will be tempted to:

  • Use their Team as their personal Therapist: looking for the team to heal you
  • Use their Team as their personal Publicist: looking for the team to promote you,
  • Use their Team as their personal Strategist: looking for the team to advance your agenda
  • Use their Team as their personal Gossip Columnist: looking for the team to provide inside information

We then remind our Volunteers of our actual calling: For Jesus in His abundant grace and strength to transform us:

  • From customers to family members in Christ
  • From a mentality of personal-consumer-use of church to a life-together-out-of- neighbor-love mission in community
  • From selling our church as an efficient producer of excellent goods and services which never requires discomfort toward one’s personal tastes, to volunteers who are knit-together in Jesus who are seeking Him with all of our doubts, cynicisms, wounds, joys, longings and hopes.

Then we repeat all of this over and again to ourselves–seeking Jesus’s grace to overcome the ruin that consumer assumptions bring to our use of gifts. 


Author: zeswine

Zack (Dr. Eswine) is often spoken of as a "Pastor to Pastors." He serves as Pastor of Riverside Church in Webster Groves Missouri and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. To learn more about his books and other resources, go to

One thought on “Pastoring Ministry Volunteers, Part 2”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: