Problems In Recruitment
By Dennis F. Williams
Linda, Women’s Ministry has a need for someone to coordinate all the luncheons and refreshments for the weekly meetings. I know you are good at that sort of thing. Will you give it a try?”
“No; thanks, anyway. I don’t think I want to do any-thing this year. The children’s sports activities are going to keep me busy, and I’m going to work at the school one day a week as well.”
The recruiter walked away from this meeting deeply troubled by the response to her request. Not that Linda’s excuses weren’t legitimate. Her children were talented athletes, and they played on a number of local teams. In addition, the elementary school needed volunteers almost as much as the church. But the recruiter knew Linda well, knew that she was a highly energetic woman, a Christian unquestionably, but one who chose not to give her talents and time to the church. She also knew that Linda had at one time shown much greater interest.
After she filled the position with another volunteer, the recruiter went back to Linda to gain more insight. Linda’s response was enlightening.
“I really don’t feel needed by the church. I’m not a college graduate; I’m not rich; I’m just an ordinary per-son. On top of that, I’ve been divorced and feel like a lot of people in the church look down on me for that. I don’t know the Bible very well, but most of the time what they want is a Sunday school teacher.
“Yes, I was more involved in my church before we moved here. They didn’t seem to ask more of me than I could give and acted very glad to have me around. Very simply, I don’t feel loved and cared for. I stay because my children have friends here.”
A sad but wiser recruiter left the meeting, knowing that she had witnessed a two-way failure here, both Linda and the church failing to serve each other. If a problem well defined is half solved, we need to define the many struggles connected with the recruitment of volunteers for ministry. Though it may not be possible to solve all the problems we discuss, we can certainly understand them better.
On the surface, it looks as though the majority of church members do not have a commitment to the work of the church. Often it has been said that the vast majority of the work of the church is done by a small percentage of the membership, while the rest merely attend services. Obviously, many laypersons remain uncommitted to church work, or at least that seems to be one logical conclusion.
Problems In Recruitment Lack Of Commitment
On a deeper level, it may not be quite that clear-cut. Many of the non-involved may themselves be the recipients of ministry. In one small church over a period of three years, three men were struck down with terminal illnesses, all in their prime years, leaving three widows and several fatherless children. The work of that church did seem to suffer during that time, but the ministry of the church moved forward powerfully. Many people prepared meals, cleaned houses, ran errands, took care of financial matters, helped with funeral arrangements, provided compassionate listening ears, and spent time with hurting children.
Furthermore, all church rolls contain lists of members who need to be out of active ministry for a while. Our Lord gave one day in seven for rest and provided for the land to rest one year in seven. So can volunteers use time away for refreshment and renewal. In addition, many church members may have volunteer commitments that are not connected with the local church but have great effect on the worldwide body of Christ.
Nonetheless, some need a greater challenge to take up active service in the church. To do this without incurring legalistic obligation, the pastoral staff would be well advised to think through their own leadership roles.
Lack of Leadership
Eugene Habecker speaks insightfully of the spiritual qualifications of a leader, suggesting that “a person’s walk with God is always seen as indispensable for a leadership assignment.”1 While Habecker notes that the Old Testament is filled with leaders chosen at God’s own discretion, certain qualifications do appear for leadership:
1. God looks for leaders who have hearts perfect toward Him.
2. God looks for leaders of great inner spiritual stature.
3. What God expects of leaders He also desires for all of us.
Habecker also notes three significant New Testament cautions aimed at leaders:
1. Don’t seek to be first.
2. Prefer others.
3. Don’t lord your leadership over others.
What is the primary goal of God-given leaders in the church? Ephesians states it clearly:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pas-tors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13).
Paul Stevens has written this:
First, church leadership is called primarily to an equip-ping ministry. This is not a sideline to preaching or counseling, but the raison d’etre of the pastor-teacher. Second, equipping the saints does not mean harnessing the laity for the felt needs or institutional tasks of the church nor harnessing the laity to assist the pastor with certain delegated ministries. The saints are to be equipped for their own ministry. The pastor should not be trying to replicate his or her own ministry but to release theirs. In the process, the laity, as a separate category of ministry in the body of Christ, is abolished.
When we have a clear and working definition of New Testament leadership, and leaders committed to that definition, then we may move on to ask for a commitment of service from our church members. The following sums up New Testament leadership principles:
1. Leadership is ministry. The emphasis on service and the thrust of the gift of leadership in Romans 12:8 shows us that if New Testament leadership means anything, it means serving other people. With meekness church leaders involve themselves in concert with other believers to engage in ministry. The smog of selfishness and egoism lifts to make mutual ministry a biblical reality.
2. Leadership is modeling behavior. We can see it clearly in the Paul and Timothy relationship (1 Tim. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:10-15). Lawrence 0. Richards says it well: “The spiritual leader who is a servant does not demand. He serves. In his service the spiritual leader sets an example for the body, an example that has compelling power to motivate heart change.”
3. Leadership is membership in the body. Obviously this does not refer to the placement of one’s name on the roll, but rather the identification of the leader with all other congregants. In Romans 12:4-5 Paul writes, “Just as each of us has one body with many members … so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The issue of relating to other people is inseparable from an understanding of Christian leadership, the measure of which can only be shown when the leader serves the body in meekness and membership.
When people join a church, we may take the opportunity to teach them how they can be involved in service. As we present various opportunities and enlist these people in some form of ministry, we should care-fully follow the Spirit’s leading. People can be challenged to find just the right place of service in which they can both be fulfilled and contribute to the ministry of the church. When people choose not to serve, church leaders do well to seek an understanding of the reasons. Many have too many commitments in other areas, while some just show no interest in serving. Perhaps both need to be challenged from a spiritual perspective. Watching how people invest their time and resources helps us know what they feel is important. This is what motivates them. Then we may challenge these people to identify and adopt biblical priorities which will bring spiritual fulfillment and satisfaction.
Lack of Leaders’ Prayers
Even when church leaders devote themselves to a servant mentality and are careful to present challenges for service, they still may find themselves short of volunteers. Then is the time to focus on the need for prayer to under gird the volunteer ministry.
A seminary class topic one day centered on recruitment. Using brainstorming, the students suggested ways the church could recruit workers. They filled the chalkboard with ideas and suggestions. Suddenly someone from the back of the room raised his hand and suggested prayer. The class fell silent. Then they realized what they had done, or rather what they had not done. They had minimized the need for prayer by suggesting it last. The biblical pattern calls leaders to pray first, seeking God’s help in finding people to serve. One of the students, a children’s pastor, told of his desperate need for workers. The class spent special time in prayer for him and for his ministry. The next week he came to class and reported that several people had actually called him to volunteer.
We want to be sure this book does not extend the error of neglecting prayer. Readers should not overlook the importance of prayer and jump right into the many suggestions for getting people involved in ministry. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which comes as a result of sincere prayer, our efforts in finding necessary workers will be limited to our own strength and ideas. It is the Lord’s church, and we serve him.
As we pray, remember that we are not merely seeking to fill positions; we want to equip people for mature service. At the beginning of the chapter, we told about Linda and her sense of feeling unneeded and unimportant to church leaders. The church failed Linda, not because she was not plugged into some appropriate service, but because she herself did not feel adequately cared for and so did not feel the freedom to care for others. Eugene Peterson expresses some unique observations on the nature of the type of pastoral ministry you need:
The Reformers recovered the biblical doctrine of justification by faith…. The vocational reformation of our own time (if it turns out to be that) is a rediscovery of the pastoral work of the cure of souls. The phrase sounds antique. It is antique. But it is not obsolete. It catches up and coordinates, better than any other expression I am aware of, the unending warfare against sin and sorrow and the diligent cultivation of grace and faith to which the best pastors have consecrated them-selves in every generation. . . . The cure of souls is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is provenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets things going. He had and continues to have the first word. Provenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do.
Some years ago a family visited the Williams house-hold for a weekend. When they were prepared to leave, their car would not start. Immediately they prayed, asking God to repair their car and make it start. After waiting for several hours, someone suggested that it might be a good idea to have a mechanic look at the car and repair it. Finally they agreed, and went on their way later that afternoon. Why didn’t God repair the car? Certainly he was able, but for reasons known only to him he chose not to. Furthermore, the availability of mechanical skill represents God’s common grace.
Some church leaders approach recruitment much like those friends dealt with car repair. When their churches need personnel in various educational pro-grams, they pray and wait for people who see the need to volunteer. As you can guess, few come forward. Eventually other workers resign because of overwork and lack of support or help from the staff. Do not over-look the importance of prayer; do not overlook the importance of what we can contribute to meet the need.
Some folks have difficulty using the word administration in a church setting. They feel that implementing “secular business techniques” in the church departs from the scriptural pattern. But notice that the word administer has the word minister in it. To minister means to serve, and Paul lists administration as a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:28). Administrative principles can be found in the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments. And the application of those principles can help solve some common problems.
Planning means setting the course for action and includes elements such as objectives, programming, scheduling, and budgeting.
Without effective objectives, churches cannot focus on the most important ministries and have little basis for evaluating results. What programs should they use? When can they be scheduled? How much will they cost? If they can’t answer these questions, people get discouraged and do not want to be part of the ministry.
Years ago W. A. Criswell, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, said to a group of pastors that his church could not do everything. At that time they had over twenty thousand members with multiple facilities and high-rise buildings for Sunday school. They conducted Christian schools, which included elementary through graduate study. They operated missions and ministries all over the area and around the world. They had a huge budget with a large staff. How could one church do more? Yet, Dr. Criswell repeatedly emphasized that they had to plan their priorities according to their resources, particularly personnel and finances.
Good planning motivates people to serve, because the priorities are set and they can see the direction the church is moving. Without good planning it will be difficult to get people excited and involved in ministry, or soon they will leave in frustration.
Organization includes structure, delegation, and staff relationships. This function makes it possible for people to serve effectively.
Good structure helps people see how they fit into the overall ministry and how their roles relate to others. Problems arise when this is not clear. Individuals and groups go in different directions, and chaos replaces harmony.
The structure of a church grows out of its mission statement. Some churches may prefer loosely defined organization, others more carefully drawn organizational lines. Neither is necessarily wrong, but what-ever is decided on will have greater effectiveness if all those involved understand the direction.
We might compare the structure of a church organization to a preplanned housing community. People know generally what to expect as they walk into each house for general overall room arrangement, but individual owners may freely express themselves with decorating and furniture layout. Structure does not destroy initiative or creativity; it sets general boundaries within which people may minister freely. Because the church is a living organism as well as an organization, her structure changes as her membership itself changes. The key is to keep this overall picture in front of the congregation so individual members do not wonder if the church community has a place for them.
Leaders who try to do everything themselves or who do not trust others with ministry responsibilities usually are poor delegators and weak in helping others use their gifts. Perhaps they feel that jobs will not be done adequately and the work of the church will be placed at risk. Indeed, this may happen when tasks are not explained or supervised properly. People who do not delegate or who delegate poorly are usually limited to smaller church ministry opportunities they can personally control.
George Barna contributes to this discussion when he indicates that leaders of growing churches delegate responsibility without anxiety and use this as a way to empower other people to do ministry.
One church noticed a severe turnover of workers in the Sunday school class for two-year-olds. Workers would volunteer for a few weeks and then quit. Some even left the church. On investigation leaders discovered that the ratio of children to workers went as high as 25:1. Early childhood specialists recommend a ratio of 3:1 or at the most 5:1 for this age group. No wonder people quit. The lack of adequate workers placed them in an impossible situation with no help or encouragement from the leadership. Recognizing the problem was caused by too few workers in the class, the leader-ship quickly recruited and trained a sufficient number of workers. This stopped the high turnover of workers, but even more important, greatly improved the quality of education in the class.
Of course, some leaders over delegate and actually lose control of a situation. They give assignments but rarely check on progress. Leaders with this deficiency suffer from similar problems in developing effective ministry in those they supervise.
Poor organization causes people to wonder about the quality of the ministry and whether or not they want to be a part of it. They see symptoms of poor organization in last-minute teacher recruitment; in regular interruptions of classes to find emergency volunteers for children’s classes; in poor communication to both workers and participants; in frequent class announcements promoting all kinds of ministry and offering requests; in disruption of teaching schedules on a regular basis; in lack of proper resources, and poor equipment and facilities; in placement of unprepared workers in positions of responsibility.
Someone with administrative gifts should work to keep the organization of the church in good condition. We are not suggesting more committees or complicated procedures and bottlenecks created by too many rules and regulations. On the contrary, proper organization will help the church carry on its mission with minimal interference and difficulty. If too many things keep getting in the way, we need to evaluate our ministry procedures. Potential workers will be demotivated by chaos; such an environment tends to keep people from volunteering or responding to an invitation to serve.
Probably the weakest area of church ministry is evaluation. Perhaps we feel we should not evaluate the work of the Holy Spirit and hesitate to check up on the quality of ministry. But remember, the purpose of evaluation is improvement, not punishment. We ask questions on how well we are doing so that we can find even better ways to do the work.
Evaluation requires the setting of standards prior to implementing the work. Then we measure people’s ministry according to the standards. From this evaluation we can determine ways to improve the work, helping us achieve the desired results. This will be expanded in chapter 7.
Why do so many churches experience a shortage of workers? There is no simple answer to this question but we would like to offer several suggestions. Once a problem is well defined, work on the solution has begun.
Some Seem Indifferent to Their Responsibilities
Some church members apparently neglect or ignore God’s call to serve. Marlene Wilson calls these non-workers “pew-sitters.” Perhaps some Christians get so involved in their ministries that they do not want help from others. They may gain a sense of power and authority by doing the work themselves. If this is the case, then the pew-sitters do not sense the need to help.
This indifference certainly may be a spiritual problem, such as those discussed above. When people are not dedicated to the Lord’s service, and when they put other things higher on their priority list, the work of the Lord does not look as attractive to them. Nothing short of a re-dedication to Christ and a change in priorities can correct this. Leaders should recognize this and help people discover God’s purpose for their lives and regain a consistent relationship with the Lord.
Some Have Never Been Challenged to Become Involved in God’s Work
People can be believers and church members, but many have not been approached to roll up their sleeves and accept the challenge of ministry. This may be difficult to believe if you are responsible to find volunteers. Perhaps you have invited everyone to serve, with announcements from the pulpit and articles in the church newsletter or bulletin. But this is not the way to enlist workers. You can alert people to the general need for workers through public announcements, but you should enlist them through personal contact.
When we consider something really important, we give it our personal attention. During a marriage seminar, the leader asked how many people had proposed to their wives with a letter duplicated on a copy machine. Obviously, no one had done so, but that is exactly how we often seek helpers in the church. One church was so desperate to find elders that they sent out eighty letters inviting people to volunteer for this most important position. How much better to discuss the position face to face.
Some Lack Confidence in Their Abilities
Past failures, what unthinking people have told them about themselves, the fear of failure, and the large responsibility before them could be several reasons people lack confidence to volunteer. Confidence can only be developed by being well prepared for the task at hand and enjoying the full support and encouragement of a leader. Preparation can come through training, observation, in-service training, practice teaching, coaching, and many other ways. More will be said about this in the section on training.
Some Misunderstand the Task
Church recruiters need to be specific in what they ask and expect from potential workers. They should help people understand that accepting a position does not entail a “life sentence.” Potential volunteers see the awards given to teachers who have served for forty or fifty years and imagine they may be in line for a long tenure. They watch leaders place people in positions and never release them for other ministries. If leaders fail to provide further assistance for people to experience other opportunities of ministry, they may hamper their growth. Better to agree on a specific period of time, with the option to renew if agreeable to both parties.
Some Feel It Requires Much More Time and Effort Than They Can Contribute
Clear instructions with a job description will help solve this problem. Some positions do require greater amounts of time and effort, and these should be offered to people both qualified and able to perform the ministry. If people do not have the time necessary to fulfill a responsibility, help them select another ministry opportunity.
Some Have Been Improperly “Cataloged”
Church leaders often suffer from “hardening of the categories” when they look at potential workers. That is, they often think of people in only one place or conclude that certain people could never serve in any other significant way. They overlook them without doing a complete evaluation. Leaders need to break out of this procedure and look at people with a renewed optimism for service, to not overlook anyone, and to give everyone a chance to serve.
Some Are Too Busy
Statistics tell us that over 70 percent of the women in our country work outside the home. The traditional concept of the American family with a husband as the sole breadwinner, a wife who does not work outside the home, two children, a dog, and a cat represents less than 10 percent of the households. Yet it appears many churches continue to program for this arrangement. Add to this the increasing number of single-parent families, most headed by women, and you see that many in our population do not have the energy or time for heavy involvement in church ministry.
In the past the church has depended on women to carry on many of its ministries, especially in the area of education. With this resource limited, the volunteers are not readily available just because people work outside the home, how-ever, does not mean they cannot serve in some way. It does mean that their time commitment may be reduced because of these other responsibilities.
Some Must Cope with Dual-Career Households
A dual-career household poses special challenges to church leaders to help these busy families understand their need to minister and serve and the opportunities available to them. Some factors to consider:
1. Their opportunities for fellowship with other adult Christians may be severely limited. They may face the same problem finding good family time. A combination of service and fellowship activities is a possible solution. One family in this situation decided to do some occasional volunteer work at an inner-city congregation tied to their suburban church. As a family, they helped set up Christmas parties and deliver food baskets. Not only did they touch lives, but it gave special memories of time together to cherish.
2. Men and women with heavy career demands also often have talents badly needed by the church fellow-ship. Perhaps other members of the church family could take care of some household and maintenance tasks to free up otherwise occupied time. One gifted Bible study teacher found she could not carve out the necessary study time to prepare lessons when her work responsibilities expanded. Several women whom she had taught for years started cleaning her house periodically, giving her adequate time for study, a beautiful example of body life.
3. As with all members of the Christian community, these time-pressed families need to understand that life is not divided into sacred and secular divisions. Work and worship intertwine in a healthy Christian life, for “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Teach them to look for opportunities to spread the light of God’s love at work. Friendship evangelism, lunchtime Bible studies, one-on-one listening sessions, high ethical standards, commitments to excellence, all have an effect on a dark world.
4. Because of this time problem, it will he necessary for a church to look at its ministries and try to break down some of the tasks into manageable units that can be assigned to different individuals. If it must settle for less time from more people, the task must be divided among faithful workers. Leaders need to assess ways more people will be able to contribute time and efforts to ministry.
One church that met in a school needed regular volunteers to set up the facilities for the services each week. Rather than make this a heavy weekly commitment for two people, they set up a schedule of three teams so that volunteers performed this task once every three weeks.
Some Make Different Choices in How They Use Their Free Time
Everyone, regardless of position or power, has the same 168 hours per week. The difference comes in how productive people make these hours and how they use them to serve the Lord through his church. There are certain responsibilities that all people fulfill: to families, to work, to recreation, and to serve God. Some place too much time in one of these areas and live their lives out of balance. Many people, especially men, put so much effort into their work that they neglect their families. Others spend too much time on recreation, leaving little or no time for God and ministry.
People need to determine how to balance their lives and include each of these areas. Far too often, service to God is left off the list. Church leaders must challenge God’s people to see this important aspect of their lives and accept the responsibility to serve God with-out neglecting other areas.
People are too busy and under too many pressures to continue to offer their free time to church activities that continually fail.10 When there is no fulfilling reward, or when people are discouraged with ineffective ministry results, they will find other ways to spend their limited free time.
You may look at this list of problems and feel like throwing in the towel. Can you achieve significant ministry in the 1990’s when you face so many reasons that keep people out of volunteer ministry? Yes! The work of the church will go forward, and you need to help more of the Lord’s people find some place of effective ministry.
1. To what extent does the preaching and teaching ministry of your church proclaim the importance of personal involvement in ministry?
2. Do you present the importance of a personal involvement in church ministry to new church members in the orientation program?
3. To what extent does the prayer ministry of the church address this need?
4. In addition to prayer, does the church have a strategy in place to identify and recruit leaders?
5. Has your church clearly identified the priorities of ministry with biblical objectives?
6. Does your church fit the pattern of 10 percent of the people doing most of the work?
7. To what extent is communication effective in your church? How do you do it? How can it be improved?
8. To what extent do you evaluate ministries and individuals? What do you do to improve ministries and individuals?
9. Develop a list of your own reasons of why churches face a shortage of workers. Compare the list with the reasons suggested in this chapter. After each, write one or two possible ways to overcome it.
This article “Problems in Recruitment” written by Dennis F. Williams is excerpted from Volunteers for Today’s Church.