Creating a Culture of Excellence Within Your Church
Whenever I hear this word in relation to the Church, it brings to mind some memories from the past 30+ years I’ve been in ministry. The concept of ministry excellence became a major theme in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It has continued, for the most part, in how many churches conduct their services today.
This shift in how the Sunday morning experience is presented opened the door for the use of technology, state-of-the-art production equipment, and creative set designs to enhance the service. Terms like “seeker-sensitive” and “attractional” were used to describe this new way of conducting the worship service. At the same time, many churches have continued to worship using a more “traditional” format.
I am not sure if any realistic data exists that gives insight into how churches choose to worship in one way or the other. We know that a lot of churches throughout America embrace a more contemporary form of worship. We also know that a lot of churches prefer the traditional approach. And there are thousands more who fall somewhere in between.
The truth is that there are many ways to approach how you believe God wants you to do ministry. Therefore, I want to establish at the beginning of this article that I am not promoting a particular style or way of doing church. That decision is up to you and your congregation.
Combining Faithfulness and Ability for Volunteers
Every church has certain expectations for those who serve in volunteer capacities. The common hope is that our volunteers will show up on the expected day, arrive on time, and have a good attitude. It is so discouraging to have volunteers that we count on from week to week who are undependable.
A “no show” volunteer can create a very stressful worship experience because of the ripple effect that accompanies their absence. We often have to find replacements in a panic just a few minutes before service is about to begin. It is an unpleasant experience for the leader as well as the replacement volunteer who has now been put on the spot.
It’s only natural for us to determine that a dependable volunteer who faithfully shows up week after week is a true gift from God! And the value of faithfulness cannot be overstated! Punctual, dependable people certainly make everything flow better for those of us in leadership. However, it is important to note that there is another aspect of an effective ministry volunteer that needs to be understood in order to create an atmosphere for an excellent volunteer culture. This other aspect is ability.
The Biblical Foundation
The Apostle Paul was giving instructions to Timothy when he shared this admonition with him in 2 Timothy 2:2:
“And the things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Paul merged the attributes of faithfulness with ability here. He understood that faithfulness alone isn’t enough when it comes to developing your ministry. Ability is also crucial.
Look at this same verse in The Message translation:
“Pass on what you heard from me - the whole congregation saying Amen! - to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others.”
It has been my personal observation that many churches reward faithfulness or reliability without ever addressing ability or competency. In recruiting volunteers, it is actually very important that they have both in order to create an atmosphere of excellence.
Here are a few results of having faithfulness without ability in volunteers:
1) The volunteer who lacks ability sometimes uses the ministry opportunity to fulfill a need in their own life.
Many churches allow people to be out front in highly visible volunteer positions without understanding that the person is trying to fulfill a personal dream at the expense of the entire congregation. An obvious example of this is the singer who can’t sing! Ouch!
2) The volunteer lacking in ability never allows opportunities for the gifted to come forward.
It is possible to have qualified volunteers that are already attending your church who never get the chance to serve because someone won’t allow them the chance. An insecure person tends to always keep a gifted person at a distance. I’m sure that we lose gifted volunteers because of this more than we know.
3) Allowing those lacking in ability to continue leading sets the bar of how your ministry is viewed.
In most cases, almost everyone in the congregation recognizes when a volunteer is serving in an area beyond their giftedness. Those attending your church will assume that this is where you have set the bar of excellence as a leader. I often say at our One-Day Events, “You perpetuate what you tolerate!”
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Now let’s look at a few results of having volunteers with ability that aren’t faithful:
1) The volunteer who has ability without faithfulness always creates division or ministry silos.
I'm sure you've had people in your church whose giftedness caused them to develop a fan club. Nothing is more divisive in a church than pockets of people following gifted leaders who lack a servant heart and aren’t dependable. The person with great ability can come across like they are more important than the overall ministry. And their followers are often so enamored with the gift that they fail to see the damage created when someone like this is not dependable.
2) A volunteer who is gifted with ability but not faithful is often hard to lead.
The inability to follow often accompanies a person like this. I find this to be true in a lot of smaller churches. A gifted person that you can’t count on to be faithful can often come across like they are doing you a special favor by showing up.
3) The able volunteer who is not faithful usually leaves the church when you need them the most.
In the end, people who have ability but aren’t faithful always have an agenda built around themselves. In some instances, they use your need for quality help as a way of manipulating you to get what they want. Caving in to this will keep you on edge and stressed out as a leader. Catering to a hard-hearted individual never works out well.
Creating A Healthy Volunteer Culture Requires Both!
I believe the best definition of excellence in ministry to be this: “Doing our very best with what the Lord has provided us in people, facilities, and resources.” One of the most detrimental things any of us in ministry can do is to compare our ministry with another ministry. I beg you today to stop doing this if you are in the habit of doing so. It’s not helpful. It is also very discouraging. And worst of all, it’s sinful!
A healthy volunteer culture is comprised of faithful people who are serving within their God-given giftedness. Remember that most folks don’t typically show up at our church ready to serve at the highest level. This is why Ephesians 4:2 tells pastors and ministry leaders that our first priority is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. God has gifted the pastor with the ability to discover and recruit those within their flock to serve. Equipping saints is not an option! It’s our calling.
I do want to acknowledge that we often have to put people in places of leadership for a period of time out of sheer need. However, as leaders, we must make it a consistent core value to place people in the areas of their giftedness as soon as we possibly can. Start building an intentional volunteer culture structure today. We should never allow need to be our volunteer strategy!
Commit today to become an equipping church that helps your members cultivate and develop their gifts in an atmosphere of excellence. In the process, determine now that you will match faithfulness with ability. This is really the best way to create a healthy volunteer culture that not only serves the ministry today, but also provides sustainability for many years to come.