1. They Serve People First, Not God
Most of the ministries of the church revolve around people serving other people in some capacity, whether it is teaching, children's ministries, youth, senior adults and many more, but ultimately we should be serving God and His purposes in the church and community through those functions. When we serve only other people, we tend to become focused on results, numbers, progress, and reputation. When we plan events, outreach, and new ministries and only a few people show, we get disappointed and regret signing up. Volunteers burn out because the glorious results they had hoped for didn't pan out. They wanted people to see them serving and get at least a little credit, but none was given. They put in the time to prepare and no one seemed to care, so they stop trying. All these have happened many times because volunteers (and staff for that matter) are focused on the people and not on serving God. Jesus tells a story in Luke 17:7-10 that fits well with this:
"Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Won't he rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"At the end of the day, we are God's servants, and our reward comes from Him. Let's try and remember we serve God first, and through His strength we serve others.
2. They Are Spiritually Dry
Baptists (the people I know and love) are professional fakers when it comes to their spiritual condition. We can preach and teach it all day, but the reality is that relatively few in our congregations have a strong, personal relationship with Jesus. For whatever reason, personal Bible study, prayer, and reflection just don't happen during the week, so many come to church empty and expect God to do something amazing. He still has the power to do so, but the Spirit is ready to work when we are ready to receive Him, listen to Him, and respond to Him. Many volunteers fall into the trap of going through the motions and planning a lesson and being on time to serve, but throughout the week they have experienced little spiritual growth. God can certainly use a volunteer position to ignite spiritual growth, but often volunteers enter into a role unprepared and with an empty spiritual gas tank. When a volunteer coasts on fumes, they will eventually run out of energy. Many volunteers have to miss Bible studies or even worship services because of their roles, so it is even more important that they prioritize their relationship with Jesus at home before they step into a volunteer role at church. Just before the verses above, Jesus says the famous line, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'be uprooted and planted into the sea,' and it will obey you." (Luke 17:6) This issue is about priority - our relationship with God is first, and then out of that flows a joyful attitude and a willingness to serve others despite any other circumstances.
3. They Are Overworked and Under-Appreciated
The reality of most church situations is that about twenty percent of the people do about ninety percent of the work. Those statistics are sad, but true for many. The Sabbath concept is foreign to most Americans, and the idea that we need a time of rest to reflect on what God has done and what He will do in the future has abandoned most of us. Pastors and ministers often forget that our volunteers are unpaid workers, and most of them have busy schedules throughout the week with jobs, kids, and other activities. Having a week off, or a short break from a particular area of service allows volunteers to simply be a church member every once in a while so that they can refresh and reconnect with God and others. Incentives and bribes should not be necessary, but a simple thank you and a show of appreciation for their dedication is always welcomed by our workers. They know that they should not expect earthly rewards, but sometimes a little appreciation goes a long way to maintaining devoted, enthusiastic volunteers in ministry.
4. They Are Simply Unqualified for the Position
I hate to say it, but sometimes volunteers are not cut out for a certain role. They are not gifted, experienced, or skilled but still feel compelled to serve in some way. God bless their motivation, but as leaders we understand that qualified, effective leaders will be able to impact others. I am a firm believer in training and I also believe strongly that God will provide what is needed for a particular area of service. This is why we must offer training and consistently build up our volunteers so that even those who are more unqualified can find their place and serve as prepared and joyful volunteers. Practically, volunteers entering into a new area of service shouldn't be thrown in the fire at week one; give them a couple weeks to observe and watch how ministries and classes are done. They may even need more time than that. A little patience and guidance often can take a volunteer with little experience and transform them into the most motivated and excited volunteers a church has!
Finding great help is possible, and with a little planning, prayer, and preparation, leaders have the necessary tools to develop motivated volunteers who can experience God's grace and glory each week as they serve the church and serve others in Jesus' name.