Training For Ministry

By Chester Michell

It is Sunday morning, and you drive up to this beautiful facility. As you enter the parking lot, you are greeted by a parking lot attendant who looks like he has been up for hours. You get out of your car and are greeted by another young man who smiles at you as if he has been expecting you. By the time you get to the front door, you kind of know what to expect. Energy flows from the men and women who are strangers but who, by their warm greetings, cause you to wonder if they are old friends from your college days. You are now in the building, and you feel the energy of the place! Everywhere you look, people are serving, and they seem genuinely excited. Better yet, you sense a permeating spirit of excellence. These people have elevated serving to an art. Just as you are prompted to ask someone about this awesome environment, the alarm rings, and you realize that the place you saw was not your church, and the people were definitely not your volunteers, and, ah yes, it was only a dream.

Every pastor wants to know, How do you train men and women for ministry? What is the secret to keeping volunteers on the cutting edge of productive ministry? What is the missing ingredient that separates churches that have awesome volunteers from those who limp along week after week with a mediocre group of volunteers? Here are some insights I have learned in my eleven years as senior pastor of the church I am currently leading.

Begin With Vision

Forget about finding the perfect training resource. There is no such thing. The key to training is a clear communication of the why. Why are we so passionate about nursery workers who give 100 percent to the youngest of our members? Allow me to suggest to you a vision that sounds something like this: At Capital Community Church, we envision raising up a great godly generation that will enable us to be a world impacting church from generation to generation.

Contrast the vision of caring for the most important resource of your church to a recruiting statement like, “We need people who will watch the kids.” Such a statement eliminates the best people, the passionate people, and the creative people. You have said to the people who have the gift of leadership and organization, “Please do not apply!” It demotivates the best and the brightest, and thus you have mediocrity.

Ask For A High Level Of Commitment

Rick Warren noted that each time he raised the commitment bar in his church, he had better volunteers. Excellence attracts excellence, and mediocrity attracts mediocrity. As you attempt to become more effective in training, you should be looking for servant-leaders–people who are servants but who also have the biblical gift of leadership. Why? Because your best leaders will attract more like-minded leaders, and followers always want to be around great leadership.

Many times we are doomed to frustration in attempting to attract and train people for our ministries because the law of attraction is working against us and not for us. Ask yourself the question, Would I want to work under that person every Sunday? If the answer is no, then why would the best people in your church want to? In their book Mavericks at Work, William Taylor and Polly LaBarre suggest you ask; Why would great people want to work here? Wherever you find great volunteers being trained, you generally find a culture with a high level of commitment. I frequently remind our key ministry leaders that the bar should raised regularly. If your church has a core value of excellence, you will attract the best people, and those who are not committed to that vision will feel “led” to move on. Lowering the bar has the opposite effect.

Training Should Be On The Job And Ongoing

In training volunteers, think about ongoing training. How often do we find ourselves recruiting someone for a particular ministry, when there is no mechanism to keep the person long term? The truth is, often when we have an emergency need, we recruit a person who is only a short-term solution. I would encourage you to think long term in your strategy, and a part of that should entail ongoing recruiting and ongoing training. Your key leaders in every ministry should be required to attend training workshops and have scheduled times of training with their teams. I believe the most effective raining is to have your new volunteers work along with experienced volunteers until they are comfortable in the role. The best hospitals are teaching hospitals, and the best teams are always teaching new volunteers.

Train With The Big Picture

It should be expected that volunteers will serve in several ministries over a period of time. There should be an understanding that people are not showing up for a job, but they are signing up for a cause. While training should be ministry specific, it is important that every ministry in your church has the same foundational philosophy. For example, excellence matters; serving is a privilege; lost people matter to God and so they matter to us; unity is not optional; and we always go the second mile. Churches that do a great job training volunteers are emphatic about the fact that it is not about us. They are more concerned about reaching outsiders than pacifying insiders.

Here Are A Few Other Training Tips

* Ask for a specific time commitment. People are more apt to say yes if you are specific about their time.

* Train people to not only join the team, but also ask them to recruit their friends to join the team. People tend to work best when they are working with people whom they already enjoy. Every job description should encourage volunteers to mentor their replacement and work themselves out of the job.

* Insist that each ministry team take the responsibility to recruit for their team instead of expecting the pastor to do it over the pulpit. The reason begging for volunteers over the pulpit is ineffective is that you are conveying the message things are really bad. The fact is, most people are not motivated to get on board the Titanic when it is sinking. We tend to want to get on board something that is going somewhere other than down.

* Tell volunteers how they will be treated both during the time of their service and after the relationship is over. They should know that they will be celebrated every step of the way, and at the end of their service, they will be treated graciously and thanked.

* In training, communicate that you will ask people to serve where they are needed, but your ultimate goal is that everyone serve where they are gifted.

* Finally, communicate to volunteers that they are valued for who they are more than for what they can do for the church.

This article “Training For Ministry” written by Chester Mitchell is excerpted from Forward Magazine a July/August 2007 edition.