Volunteers – Ministry With Margins
Many years ago, while I was in college, I did a month-long internship in a church. My role was to shadow the lead pastor so that I could get a good 360-degree view of the whole church. Throughout the month I learned much as I observed and participated in the various ministries of the church.
One day, while walking into the office area, I saw the open door of an older pastor who was the Minister of Visitation for the church. He greeted me from his desk and invited me into his office. He politely asked me to close the door. After I was seated he said something like, “Son, you are learning from one of the best lead pastors I know. Don’t miss any opportunities to take in everything possible. However, there is one thing I don’t want you to learn – something that I learned the hard way after I had my heart attack. The lead pastor does not do a good job taking days off and taking vacations. Listen closely when I tell you: Take your day off every week and take all your vacation days.”
I had walked into his office as a ripe and young would-be youth pastor ready to change the world. I left his office hearing words that have helped me to become a ripe and old(er) youth pastor who still loves the church, ministry, and working with teenagers.
After 32 years in paid youth ministry, I have learned the importance of pace. More importantly, I have learned this is equally or more significant for the volunteers who serve with me. They have responded to my careful attention to their wellbeing by being long-term volunteers rather than losing steam and quitting after one or two years.
Any number of factors can influence longevity, but none is more important than intentionally creating “margins” in our ministries. Defining our boundaries in life helps to keep balance and leaves breathing room for enjoying the life God has given us. Too many people run through life believing that if they can just get through this “busy time” – then they will rest. The problem comes when one “busy time” is followed by another “busy time” until the person who had intended to take a break becomes physically, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually defeated.
How do you minister with margins? I offer six words: Set your priorities and live them! Does this sound cliché and perhaps overused? Perhaps you are right, but how many actually accomplish this even if they believe it to be true?
The theme of the current Youth Leaders Only Digital Box is Volunteers: Multiplying Your Ministry Effectiveness. In addition to the newest Christian, worship, and mainstream music, you get all the great Articles, Bible studies, and selections from Jeff Martin’s amazing book when you join YLO!
Allow me to offer you three priorities (in order of importance) toward creating healthy margins:
Your Relationship With God
There is and can be, no more important priority than this. Letting Christ be at the center of your life is to remember you are first and foremost a child of God – a student of the Word, a pray-er, a faithful and obedient servant, and a witness to the hope within you. (1 Peter 3:15)
Your Family Relationships
(or, if you’re single – Your Intentional Community)
As a married person, my roles are to honor, love, respect, listen to, and allow Christ to be at the center of our relationship. As a single person, those same roles would be true. As a parent, my roles are to shepherd my children by being a godly example, spending quantity (not just quality) time with them, offering them loving instruction, and equipping them to be capable children of God.
Your paid work and volunteer work can both be places where you freely give to God your life, your gifts, and talents through ministry to His people.
Note what is first in this list and note what is third. There will always be more to do in youth ministry. There will always be more time you could spend on investing in the lives of youth or helping with the next event. There will be times you need to say “No” to great opportunities – but you will be doing so because you have a sustainable plan to keep you “shepherding” youth for a long time to come.
Let your life decisions first be founded on your relationship with God; secondly, considerate of the welfare of your relationship with your family/community and the effects of that decision on their lives; and finally, find meaning in the fulfillment of and vision for the ministry of Jesus Christ through your service.