Supervising Ladies Ministry Volunteers
By Ronald Parker
Barbara, always enthusiastic and uniquely able to give her services almost full-time as a volunteer, had a vision-a women’s ministry that encompassed all the needs and talents of the women in her church and enabled them to reach far and wide into the community. She listed her goals: serious Bible studies with highly trained teachers, emotional support groups for those who had been domestically or otherwise abused, structured mentoring of the younger women by the older women, a care or mercy ministry for those who were hurting financially or dealing with serious illness in the immediate family, holiday parties for underprivileged children, and a series of Saturday luncheons for women who held full-time jobs and tended to feel estranged from the usual women’s activities.
The church gave her the green light. Go for it!
Eight years later, exhausted and burned out, Barbara complained to a friend of many years as they talked over a cup of coffee, “If I don’t do the work, it never gets done. People say they’ll do something, but they don’t follow through. I spend so much time running around, setting up programs, propping things up, and teaching Bible studies. Even worse, after we’ve set something up, we’ll get bumped by another church activity that needs the same space.”
Her friend responded, “Barbara, how much contact do you have with the pastoral staff person who delegated all these responsibilities to you?”
“Almost none. He’s an assistant pastor and we meet once a year to go over my budget requests. Every once in a while he’ll ask how things are going. He has indicated that he is too busy to worry about my program and has lots of confidence that I can handle this on my own.”
Another question from her friend: “Do you meet regularly with the women whom you’ve asked to carry certain responsibilities? What is your organizational structure?”
“I have an advisory board I meet with whenever I feel like calling a meeting, about four or five times a year. However, none of them actually take responsibility for any programs or activities. The organizational structure is just me, I guess.”
One final question from her friend: “Barbara, has anyone ever given you loving supervision over your work, or taught you how to supervise others?”
“I’m really not sure what you mean.”
Churches and Christian leaders increasingly struggle to find quality workers like Barbara who can fulfill various tasks of ministry. Society’s changes in recent decades underscore significant difficulties in this effort. Nearly every church leader knows that the most significant challenge facing congregations is recruiting busy people for ministry and then supervising them.
Effective supervision can determine whether or not programs and strategies rest upon biblical responsibility to meet significant needs. Without this understanding, ministries may become mere programs with no obvious rationale. To repeat, people respond more to ministry opportunities that are part of a broader church strategy rather than isolated, personal ministry efforts that do not contribute to an overall purpose.
After we set biblical foundations, discover needs, and establish ministry goals and strategies, we can begin to understand the importance of supervision. As we teach the use of spiritual gifts, coupled with practical and administrative suggestions to assist Christian leaders and workers, the church can sense the opportunity to fulfill its mission.
The church belongs to the Lord, and ministry is under his control. Scripture calls us to serve him through the church, and as leaders, to equip people for service in ministry. If God helps us develop strategies or programs for ministry, he will also guide us in supervising the volunteers who staff them.
On rare occasions God may choose to supply workers as he supplied manna from heaven for the people of Israel in the wilderness. But even they had to go out and collect it. Usually he expects us to be proactive in the finding, recruiting, training, and placing of workers in ministry. Then we cannot ignore the essential ongoing role of supervisory leadership.
Foundational Principles Of Supervision
Ministries Must Reflect The Mission Statement
People respond to opportunities when they see how the suggested ministry contributes to the overall objectives of the church. An earlier chapter emphasized that too often these statements are unavailable and people are not given the opportunity to see them in print. Yet supervision is inseparably related to objectives, and objectives must be based upon the church’s mission statement.
A mission statement helps people understand the nature and purpose of the church. It should cover worship, evangelism, education, fellowship, and ministry. Every ministry in which a church engages must be evaluated on the basis of how well its workers handle these areas. As workers are supervised and affirmed, they can be reminded of the mission statement and how their specific activity contributes to the total ministry of the church.
Ministries Must Be Based On The Needs Of People
Once a church knows what God wants it to do (mission statement), it can work at its achievement (needs assessment). To find the needs, look both inside and outside the church. Today many talk about the importance of a need-based church ministry. People are more likely to respond to something they feel it will meet their needs. These needs, however, must be based on God’s Word and not just the whims and desires of people.
Christian workers look for their needs to be met in their ministries. But more likely, their Christian love motivates them to be sensitive to and meet the needs of others. How effectively are your workers’ needs being met? More important, how well are they meeting the needs of people they serve?
People Respond To Ministry Goals And Strategies
Goals are developed from the mission statement and the church’s awareness of needs. Goals can also provide an important challenge. People often respond to goals they perceive will fulfill a desirable objective. True servants of the Lord find joy in serving the Savior in ways the Spirit has gifted them. When strategies emerge from goals, they meet the needs and God’s purpose for the church. Personal fulfillment comes from knowing that what you are doing is important and in line with what God expects.
Ask if the program’s strategies are designed to most efficiently and effectively reach its goals. Are the workers’ understandings and practices compatible with those strategies? Do adjustments need to be made on paper and in practice?
Organizational Principles Of Supervision
Scripture records many events in which proper administrative principles were used. Remember that these events took place prior to the present-day management movement. The spiritual gift of administration (1 Cor. 12:28) underscores the importance God gives to doing ministry in the best possible way.
Yes, ministry can become bogged down with an overabundance of administrative structure and regulations. When this happens, people lose sight of the biblical purpose of what they are doing and focus only on unrelated procedures and requirements. This is wrong, but when ministry is performed without proper planning, then that is wrong, too. Administrative procedures assist people to minister properly and effectively. But when they get in the way, they are out of place.
People Respond To Supervisors Who Plan Ahead
Good planning must include forecasting, establishing objectives, programming, scheduling, budgeting, and establishing policies and procedures. These things do not just happen. Leaders carefully invest time and energy in these activities so that the programs can be carried on effectively. This gives direction to the ministry and motivates workers to be involved. It frustrates volunteer workers when things are not well planned. They feel that if they give their time to the church, the church, in turn, should have plans and resources to do things properly and effectively.
Do your workers know the plans for the ministry’s future, understand them, agree with them? Do they feel rewarded for their time? Any hints of their spending inordinate amounts of time or too little time on their ministries? Are they satisfied with their physical equipment, educational materials, training?
People Respond To Supervisors Who Are Organized
Organization involves structure, delegation, and establishment of relationships. It makes it possible for people to work together in the task of ministry. Structure provides the practical framework of an organization and permits workers to see how their ministries fit with the overall design or the whole church’s task of ministry. Successful leaders have learned to delegate tasks. When people see one person doing all the work, they If check out” of the ministry and let that person do it.
Do workers feel the work is evenly or fairly distributed? Do they readily accept responsibilities? Any hint that individuals are assuming work overloads or allowing themselves to be dumped on? Any workers becoming dead wood or feeling left out? Does someone have a problem articulating needs or frustrations? Do you give workers opportunity to blow their own horns, to vent their enthusiasm over their successes?
People Respond to Supervisors Who Share Their Vision
Emerging leaders must be involved in decision making, communicating, motivating, selecting, and developing people in ministry. When you encourage volunteers to participate in these functions, the ministries become theirs rather than yours. When leaders frequently talk about “my” ministry, they verbally deny this important principle.
Yes, leaders must have vision, but that vision can be developed from a shared perspective, rather than in solo fashion. Shared vision enhances group motivation. Also, when people share in the planning, they know more about the strategy to use.
Evaluate yourself. Are you a good listener? Do your workers confide in you, feel free to make suggestions? Can you accept suggestions, criticism, praise? Can you discuss options with your workers, make compromises, come to agreements? Do your workers feel you understand them? Do they empathize with you? Do they feed you as well as each other?
People Respond To Supervisors Who Evaluate Their Work
Evaluation is an important but often neglected part of ministry. People may be threatened and not want to serve if they think someone is always checking on them. You need to emphasize that evaluation helps people improve their service. It never aims to punish those who serve.
Standards for assessment must be set prior to the evaluation time. It is inappropriate when Sunday school teachers are observed for the purpose of evaluation when they are not told ahead of time what the evaluator is looking for.
Whatever we ask people to do in ministry must have clearly written objectives, which become the standard for evaluation. If volunteers and their supervisors establish objectives together, wider “ownership” is likely, and the task will probably be performed effectively. People will be willing to submit to this kind of assessment because they have had a part in designing it.
One major aspect of evaluation is debriefing. Evaluation measures workers’ effectiveness against the objectives mutually agreed upon at the beginning. Debriefing brings the supervisor and the volunteer face to face to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and how the ministry can be improved in the future.
People respond to supervisors who demonstrate genuine care and concern. Often people get the impression that church leaders are only interested in them for what they can contribute to the advancement or preservation of church programs. But discipleship means being interested in people for themselves.
Not all supervisor meetings go smoothly. Sometimes the volunteer refuses to take suggestions and is dissatisfied with your evaluation or recommendations. The first thing to do when this happens is to determine the cause. Is it a personality clash? Does the volunteer disagree with the overall philosophy of ministry? What is the volunteer really saying by these actions? If the cause is a basic misunderstanding, then a solution is close at hand. If, however, the cause is absolute disagreement and even hostility, the problem must be addressed and dealt with appropriately.
Do not ignore these problems because they will only get larger. Talk directly to the individual and try to resolve the differences. If this does not work, consider moving the volunteer to another position. Perhaps the problem was misplacement in a ministry position. It may be necessary to dismiss the volunteer, and if it comes to this, be sure you consult with others to confirm this tactic. People know when they are not doing a good job and when others around them are not responding to their ministry. Dealing with the problem directly, but with sensitivity, is the best approach, because you want the volunteer to learn and grow from the experience and you want the ministry to go forward as well.
Evaluation is not always a formal process. Actually evaluation is going on all the time. Observations, responses from those being ministered to, records, and ministry successes provide means for assessment. A good leader will take advantage of all of these informal opportunities.
Spiritual Principles Of Supervision
Everyone can have an opportunity to serve, even though it may not be in a high-visibility, high-influence kind of position. Everyone who serves needs supervision, and the quality of that supervision may very well determine whether that person continues at a low level of ministry effectiveness or grows toward more responsible ministry roles.
In this book, we have tried to weave together the strands necessary for the recruitment and retention of lay workers in the church. We have touched on many things: the need for clearly understood mission statements, the model of servant leadership, the goals of ministries, the usefulness of administrative principles. We have emphasized the need to bring people along, to encourage them to accept and be trained for new ministry opportunities.
Scripture clearly indicates that no believer ever reaches the point where he or she functions alone. From the beginning, we were created to exist as part of a community, for “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). Ephesians 4 presents the prime model: “From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (v. 16). Christians give to one another what they have to give, and they receive that which they lack, for they are not complete when they are alone.
Important to receiving that which people lack is their understanding of their need for supervision or accountability. Most people have difficulty evaluating their own work with any degree of objectivity. Often they tend either to devastating negativism (“I’m no good at this anyway, and I might as well quit”) or swing to unrealistic optimism (“I’m good, and don’t try to tell me otherwise”).
Many have come to equate supervision with criticism, for that is their experience, and so shy away from any further exposure to it. However, whether or not supervision includes some negative feedback, the Scriptures remind us, “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
Do you sense in your church an air of excitement, of enthusiasm for God’s work? Is the Holy Spirit moving through your church? Is there a spirit of mutual love of the Lord an eagerness to build up the body, to bring God’s love to all the members and to a hurting world? Is this spirit contagious, attracting those outside the body? Or is it a time of lull, of plodding without measurable progress? If so, are you willing to wait for the Lord’s own good time? Can you practice prayerful patience while all of you do your best in what you believe God wants you to do? Then will you be ready for the Spirit’s rich harvest of fruits on your labor when it does come?
Making It Happen
How can you learn to supervise and be supervised without unnecessary hurt and with the positive result of righteousness? Think about Barbara, the wonderfully talented and terribly burned-out women’s ministry director. What did she need in the way of supervision? What did she need to give in supervising others? In a later conversation, her friend asked that very question and came up with this list to summarize Barbara’s responses.
1. Barbara led a major ministry division in the church. Even though she was not a paid staff member, she needed to be a part of the regularly scheduled staff meetings to see how her ministry fit within the greater scope of the church’s overall mission.
2. She wanted to know that accounts were kept short between her and her supervisor. In other words, when she did make mistakes or when correction was needed, she wanted to know about it immediately, deal with it, and then know it would not haunt her. She was aware of one case in the church when a list of mistakes and errors in judgment was kept over a period of three years and then presented on one devastating evening to the lay volunteer. The fear that it might happen encouraged her to keep her distance from those who were really there to help.
3. Barbara needed to be taught sound administrative principles. As with Robert (whose mini church dissolved), the pastoral staff assumed she knew these things. In this case, it seemed more likely that both the staff and the highly responsible lay leaders would have profited from a good seminar and a series of lessons on church management and people skills.
4. She needed someone to model for her the mentoring that she herself wanted to do for the women with whom she worked. It may have been necessary in her case to go outside her local church to find a woman who could adequately mentor her, but she was never encouraged to do so. Indeed, it was never mentioned as an option. In effect, she placed herself, with the blessing from the staff, in a nearly impossible situation. She was to set up a program and ministry she had neither seen nor experienced. Good supervision should have recognized this lack in her experience and sought to remedy it.
5. Barbara was very aware of her own tendency to under-delegate. A high-energy person, she often quickly lost patience with those who did not work as quickly as she. Because this destructive pattern was lifelong, she could not easily shed it. She needed to know that someone cared enough about her to confront her lovingly and honestly when she was hovering too closely or taking back already delegated tasks.
This should have been part of the training-supervising process, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). It required a high level of trust between Barbara and her supervisor. His hands-off style, which he thought expressed confidence, communicated indifference to her. It could be that he was not the appropriate person for this task, but at least he should have pointed out to her that she did need someone to do this for her and made sure Barbara received this kind of feedback.
6. Most important, Barbara needed to know her supervisor sincerely desired to see her grow in Christ, not just create an effective program. Her moments of worst discouragement came when she felt most alone, that she didn’t have a coach, so to speak, pulling for her all the way. She knew the women in her ministry profited from this type of support, but after a while she found herself unable to give it because her own reserves were not refilled. No one is exempt from the need to be pastored, and possibly ministry leaders need it most because of the enormous drain on their emotional energies. Effective and caring supervision would both recognize and supply that need.
In everything from elementary schools to professional football, we hear a lot about mastering the basics. In elementary school it may be essential reading skills; in football, blocking and tackling represent the basics. In supervision of volunteers, the basics include necessary information, clear objectives, effective evaluation, appreciation, and a climate of acceptance and caring. Engstrom and Dayton write:
“Most people respond to the expectation of their leaders. If the leader has high expectations of the person, so will that person. If the leader doesn’t expect much, chances are neither will the person. Expectations are communicated through standards, descriptions of what is to be done and how it is to be done. This is one of the most difficult of management tasks. Good performance needs to be reinforced. Less than adequate performance needs to be noted and plans to correct it carried through. It takes time. It takes a competent manager!”
Let’s conclude this chapter by talking about Doug, a physician in a major metropolitan area who came to Christ as an adult in the early stages of his medical training. As his career responsibilities grew, so did his passion for Christ and his desire to have an effective ministry. He sharpened his teaching skills while working as a professor in a medical school. To translate the usefulness of that gift to the church, he attended graduate-level seminary classes in the evenings. Over the years, he volunteered his talents for medical missionary trips, taught a Sunday school class, and finally began to serve a term as elder.
Unfortunately, before his term expired, he and a number of other elders resigned and left the church. In conversation afterward, he explained some of his disillusionment.
“I found that the church wanted to use me and my money, but the pastoral staff was not interested in seeing me grow as a Christian. Our church was overflowing with talented men and women, but we had no direction, no goal, and no purpose. If we could fit into the established programs, fine. If we had ideas for different ministries, we were given lip service to try them but no support, no encouragement, no backup. The message came through clearly: Stick with business as usual, even if that business had no effect on the surrounding community. I want to participate in a ministry that knows where it is going and why.”
In the same conversation Pam, another member who had left, spoke up. “I know the church is not a business. Nonetheless, good management principles are gifts from God. Businesses without long-range planning make horrible work places. It’s one scramble after another to make it work, leaving employees frustrated and unhappy. Our church functioned just like that-a series of disconnected programs, with no reasonably achievable goals or ways to measure our progress.”
A third leader, an executive with an international corporation, added, “It seemed as though our pastoral staff would grab whatever crazy idea came their way for church growth without evaluating whether it was right for our church, our particular community, the gifts and talents available to us. They seemed to be more interested in making us fit their program than in discovering what we as lay leaders could envision happening in our church. I feel used, not nurtured.”
A sad case, possibly extreme in its manifestations with so many lay leaders leaving at once, but the sentiments expressed by these frustrated people are not uncommon. Sometimes the church talks about developing lay leaders, but when those lay leaders actually assume serious responsibility for ministry, professional staff get nervous and even wish they would “stay in their place.” No wise pastor would say this, of course, but actions that downplay development of lay leadership communicate precisely the attitudes that drove these good folks away from a church they loved and wanted to serve.
This article “Supervising Ladies Ministry Volunteers” by Ronald Parker is excerpted Volunteers For Today’s Churches.