Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Part 3 - Volunteer Burn-out - A healthy alternative.


In Part 3 of  Volunteer Burn-out,  Below I've listed tools and strategies to prevent and hopefully eliminate burn-out and maintain a healthy church with healthy volunteers. This list of suggestions
is intended to bring focus to volunteer burn-out prevention.

Establish a culture of healthy and balanced ministry service.

Set boundaries and guidelines for service and require all to abide by them. 
  • Provide written job descriptions for all volunteer/paid ministry positions. Review them annually to maintain up-to-date and accurate representations of the actual time required.
  • Expect Sabbath rest for all.  Qualify/quantify Sabbath rest in job descriptions. "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" Exodus 20:8
  • Expect all set aside time for spiritual development and worship. Be flexible, but make it clear service suffers without it. "Just as a branch separated from its supporting vine cannot live, let alone produce any fruit, so we are helpless when we are not connected to Jesus, the source of our hope and salvation." John 15:5 
  • Plan for, and encourage time away for play and recreation. Model it by offering a fun ministry team outing or gatherings where the agenda is relaxation and relationship building not business. 
  • Limit the number of nights one is expected to serve.  Two to three nights/week or ten to twelve/month encourages and protects family and personal time. 
  • Require staff persons to model healthy and balanced service by embracing the guidelines and boundaries along with the volunteers. Train staff to coach volunteers to do the same. 
  • Avoid asking a volunteer to take on a vacant staff position's responsibilities for more than a few weeks.  Employ a paid interim ASAP to fill in.  The interim could be a seasoned volunteer willing to set in to help out without pay, but do not abuse their gift of service by allow it for more than a short time.

Educate church body on healthy balanced service.

  • Use Biblical examples of healthy and unhealthy service to illustrate expectations.  Jonah ;-( Jesus ;-) Martha & Mary to illuminate what God wants and doesn't want from us.
  • Review the Beatitudes as a church body. God doesn't want us to be anxious or ambitious, but dependent upon Him to fulfill the needs of the church.  Meditating on Matthew 6 & 7 for illumination can help check actions, attitude and motivation. 
  • Share the church's boundaries and guidelines for healthy, balanced service regularly with the body in service team meetings, communication pieces and worship messages. 
  • Encourage all to honestly prayerfully evaluate their own service health and embrace the adopted boundaries and guidelines. 
  • Celebrate all who serve in special dedication and praise service. Avoid singling anyone out specifically to encourage servant-hearted service as Jesus modeled in John 13:1-7

Help people find a position to match their God-given gifts and talents. 

  • If God wants it to happen, He will send those needed. God covered the bases by intentionally giving individuals in the church body different gifts and talents. Build ministries to reflex this and create new ministries to match the needs and manpower as God provides. 
  • Help volunteers discover their service "sweet spot" by helping them discover their God-given gifts and talents. It can start with a Spiritual gifts class and/or a one-time opportunity to sample ministry opportunities. Follow up by assessing how they felt serving in the position, on the team and in that specific area of ministry. Adjust accordingly. For example - If interacting with preschoolers during the Advent celebration felt right, but helping with crafts was a disaster, forget crafts, but focus on finding a more suitable preschool position. Volunteers are less likely to become stressed and anxious and more likely to stay energized when in their service sweet spot.


Support, reinforce and maintain healthy ministry work habits for all.

  • Divide duties of large ministry leadership positions to establish Co-leadership positions.
  • When a position's responsibilities become unmanageable, split the role into two new positions.
  • Require orientation and training before serving. Prepare and protect volunteers by outlining  expectations and responsibilities. 
  • Make sure volunteers know whom to contact with questions or to find a substitute to fill in when they need to be away. When serving suddenly clashes with personal responsibilities and it will from time to time, grace volunteers with a stress reducing workable support system.
  • Encourage serving in pairs and on teams. Not only does it help volunteers build relationships and make lasting connections with others. They are less likely to burn-out when they have a ministry colleague to share the experience. In Children's Ministry,  two people are required when working directly with children. Create teams for administrative and supervisory positions as well. 
  • Provide direct and visible supervision and support during times of service. Make sure leadership checks in with volunteers individually for feedback and to listen for needs or challenges.
  • Rotate people through key leadership positions every two to three years. I call this the "No Dynasty Rule". Not only does this prevent burn-out, it brings fresh ideas and approaches to the ministry. It also prevents individuals from monopolizing the position and leadership cliques. (This topic as related to VBS deserves it's own post.) 
  • Look out for "Lone Ranger" behavior.  When a leader fails to delegate, remind them they are robbing others of the opportunity to serve. Encourage them to list tasks and responsibilities they could delegate to others. Coach them on team building and inviting others to serve. 
  • Grace those who've served on concentrated or intense ministry projects: such as mission trips, task forces or VBS week, by encouraging them to take time away after the job is complete, or schedule breaks within the project, to refresh and renew . 


    It is my prayer, churches no longer dismiss, cover up and whisper about volunteer burn-out like it is a dirty little secret. I'd rather we openly admit it exists, happens too often and negatively impacts families and ministries.  If, we bring it into the open, talk about it and honestly address it, we can end it.  





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