Getting the most from volunteers

Much of our task as pastors and church administrators is to manage volunteer workers. Managing volunteers in the church is quite different from managing employees in a business. The most unique difference is probably the source of authority that undergirds the leadership of those who manage volunteers.

John W. Fowler is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

In the United States, 90 million people, nearly half of all adults and teen-agers, serve some organization as active volunteer workers. The September 20, 1982, issue of "U.S. News & World Report" that cited this figure also reported that the number of volunteer workers in other countries has risen sharply.

A great many of these volunteers are participating in the work of the church, and it is our task, as pastors and church administrators, to be managers of these workers. But managing volunteers in the church is quite different from managing employees in a business. Volunteer management is unique within the management profession. Church administrators and pastors see themselves as having the spiritual gift of administration.

Carl F. George, director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth, in Pasadena, California, defines the gift of administration; "The administrator gift excels at clearly stating major goals and supporting goals, visualizing the division of labor required to enable a group to work together toward those goals, and especially appraising the work force; who can handle what assignments? Another way to say this is that an essence of the administrative gift is the ability to recognize ability."—Leadership, Summer Quarter, 1982, p. 55. The manager of volunteers, then, seeks to identify the varied gifts within the church, to develop and utilize those gifts, enabling the members to cooperate in such a way as to effectively achieve their goals and objectives.

Even the secular business world is beginning to recognize a number of the principles upon which volunteer managers build. An article in the AMA Forum, volume 71, number6 (June, 1982), calls this "influence management" (in contrast to what the boss in a business does). It says: "Influence management training is designed to teach managers and supervisors nontraditional management practices that enable them to influence others rather than rely on their authority or status to get things done. That influence is based on knowledge, competence, and participative leadership rather than authority. It seeks to make people feel secure and supported in their work environment."

Some principles are similar in both employee and volunteer management, but the differences are far greater than the similarities. Apart from the spiritual dimension of volunteer management in a church setting, the most unique difference is probably the source of authority that undergirds the leadership of those who manage volunteers.

Managers of secular business organizations generally derive their authority from a source other than the employees, or workers. Authority in a secular business usually flows downward from the stockholders to management, which uses this authority to decide what is best for the organization and to manage it in such a way as to achieve goals often owned solely by the manager and stock holder.

Just the opposite is true in a volunteer organization. In the church those who own the stock and those who do the work are one and the same. Seventh-day Adventist pastors are placed by the conference committee and are account able to the conference president via the delegated authority of the constituency, but ownership still resides with the rank and file of the churches. Therefore leaders must derive their power and authority to lead from those they desire to lead. They do this by winning and maintaining the confidence of the majority of the group. The members then willingly loan their authority to the leader, thus enabling him to supervise the group effectively.

Members vote for or against the leader by giving or withholding support. Refusing to attend services or withholding financial support is a powerful method of protest. We don't like to think that the average attendance of 50 percent in most churches represents a vote of no confidence for leadership. However, we cannot casually dismiss this deplorable attendance as simply a lack of commitment on the part of members. The fact that you must man age with a "borrowed" authority demands a more participative style of leadership. The broader the base of participation, the greater the goal ownership, motivation, and support for the activities of the group.

The success or failure of those who manage volunteers is determined by their style of leadership. Leadership style reveals one's concept of human nature and something of his own view of management. It appears to me that many leaders within the Adventist Church, both in administration and in pastoral leadership, use a style sometimes referred to as laissez-faire, or a hands-off approach. Those who use this style seem to have an unrealistic concept of human motivation. They give little direction and hold no one accountable for the work that is to be done. The members of the church usually feel respected and secure with this style of leadership, but little or nothing is accomplished. The laissez-faire approach seems to gain support during times of prosperity and security; however, crisis situations quickly reveal its weaknesses.

Other leaders go to a different extreme, seeming to believe that all workers are either so indifferent or self-centered that they have little concern for their work. These leaders often use force of personality, organizational ability, or the authority of position to motivate others. This style of leadership often produces results on a short-term basis; however, there are diminishing long-term returns.

The most effective leaders believe that people are generally motivated and willing to expend their energies for the good of the group. Yet these managers also recognize that if members of the group are to perform effectively there must be clear-cut goals and objectives, definite action plans, and well-structured organizational support that involves training, supervision, and accountability. This may be the greatest weakness of volunteer management—failure to see the value of all these helps—although secular business makes use of them. Insightful leaders use a participative style of leadership to gain a consensus for the goals of the church and the organizational structure that is so necessary for success.

Many managers of church organizations have an additional source of authority that contributes singularly to the uniqueness of volunteer management his calling and subsequent ordination by the church to leadership ministry. Recognizing his special calling by God, the manager of volunteers is far more than a mere facilitator of the desires of church members. He performs some of the functions of prophet, priest, and king, thus bearing the responsibility to bring the Word of God to bear conscientiously upon the mission and work of the church. The authority flowing up from the people and down from God makes the ministry truly a unique calling and work.

Motivation is another point of difference between secular and volunteer management. Some leaders have the idea that because volunteers are not paid they lack motivation and thus are more difficult to manage. Yet most would agree that religious conviction is the most powerful motivation to be found anywhere. Properly guided, volunteers in a religious organization can be the most highly motivated, the most involved and productive members of any organization.

Most volunteer managers recognize two basic group activities necessary if the church is to grow: pastoral nurture and evangelistic outreach. What is often missing is the means of achieving these goals. This is where management makes its singular contribution. It is the leader's modus operandi. It is a systematic approach to management that develops and utilizes the total resources of the church to carry on nurture and outreach.

When we talk about a "systems approach" to church management, we are talking about a planning process, an organizational structure, and an administrative program that will enable the group to achieve the goals and objectives that grow out of the planning process. The value of such an approach is apparent: (1) It is a powerful teaching tool. "Planning is everything, plans are nothing," Eisenhower is supposed to have said. The point is that the planning process itself clarifies the mission of the group and brings an understanding of how the group must work together. It also results in group consensus, goal ownership, motivation, and involvement in the activities of the church. (2) It enables the group to work together to experience achievement not possible to individuals. Hospitals are not very cost effective, but they are the best illustration available of how to manage a group of people with varied skills and abilities to achieve a common goal. (3) It is the means of coordinating and guiding the activities of group members to achieve positive change. Most leaders of volunteers are frustrated because they have a difficult time achieving positive change. The management system can help enable the group to work together effectively. (4) It provides an organizational structure that sets limits within which the organization can function effectively. (5) It stabilizes member relationships by reducing uncertainty about the purpose and function of the organization and the various roles within it. (6) It defines and provides a rationale for power and authority roles within the organization. (7) It identifies the work to be done and properly assigns it to the individuals within the group. (8) It provides church leaders with time to become the spiritual men and women so necessary in this secular age. This is accomplished through the proper use of delegation, which enables a leader to direct the organization without spending all of his time dealing with the day-to day responsibilities that so often usurp his time and energies.

Most church organizations recognize the need of clarifying their mission, writing goals and objectives, and planning activities that will enable the group to realize those objectives. The total planning process is vitally important, but delegating responsibility for achieving those objectives and carrying on those activities is the key to volunteer management. Yet little or no training is given to pastors in this most important area of pastoral leadership! This is where most church-growth programs break down. After the planning process has reached the point where activities have been designed to achieve the goals and objectives set by the church, your most important responsibility as a manager of volunteers is to recruit and develop the necessary staff to carry out those activities. Pastors often are afraid to hold church members accountable for quality performance. Consequently we down play the difficulties of a job and present the responsibility of a certain office as though not very much is required and that anybody could do it. We expect little and quickly find out that people live up to our expectations!

The first step in recruiting and developing competent volunteers for important jobs is a clear-cut job description. Most church members are motivated, competent individuals. They can, and do, perform effectively in the business and secular world. Why, then, do they not carry the same competence into their church work? Most often it is because they do not have a clear picture of what is expected of them, nor have they been adequately trained as spiritual leaders. With proper training, members will respond with competent performance when they know what is needed and what is expected of them. Clearly defined job descriptions can provide the direction they need; without them, volunteers experience an intolerable degree of frustration and fear.

The job description usually is prepared by the church board and often approved by the church body. The principle to be followed here is that structure follows strategy. Job descriptions have to grow out of the planning process. This is the reason why those found in the Church Manual or in a good book on church management are not often helpful to the local church. If we take job descriptions someone else has developed, we are in fact making our strategy follow a predetermined structure. That is one of the besetting problems in any organization and particularly in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We have a structure that has been with us since 1901 and that often fails to encourage and support the developing strategy that is so necessary if the church is to grow in this generation far removed from the horse and buggy of yesteryear.

A good job description for each position in the church should include (1) the purpose of the position, (2) the tasks and responsibilities of the job, (3) the time limits on the job, (4) the abilities and skills necessary to perform the responsibilities of the job, (5) the authority of the person accountable for performing the assigned tasks, and (6) to whom that person is accountable or to whom he reports.

After the planning has been done and the necessary tasks have been identified and clearly described, then either the church board or the nominating committee should carefully consider who is best qualified to perform those given tasks. The spiritual gifts of the individual being considered should be looked at carefully. Several questions should be asked: (1) Does the person being considered have the ability or the spiritual gift necessary to do the job? (2) Is that person willing to carry the responsibilities out lined in the position description? (3) Does the person have the time to do the job? (4) Does the person need additional training in order to carry out the responsibilities effectively?

When a person's abilities and gifts have been appraised and the committee nominates the person, then ideally the pastor or his designee should make at least two visits with that individual before a final decision is made. He should be given the job description on the first visit and asked to think about the responsibilities, seeking God's will, until a second visit is made. At the second visit it should be ascertained whether or not the person feels he has the ability, the time, and the skills necessary to do the job, and whether he is willing to make a firm commitment to the responsibilities outlined in the job description. That commitment can be made verbally or by signing a ministry covenant.

We could very well profit if we were bold enough to ask the volunteers to sign a ministry covenant, indicating by so doing their willingness to perform the activities and responsibilities to which they are being called. Only if a person is willing to make that commitment should his name then be brought back to the board or the nominating committee for final approval. This is a distinct departure from the usual method of pairing people and jobs in the church. Yet perhaps it is time to expect much more of our members than we have in the past and to give them the authority and support to do what we have asked them to do.

The next important step in managing volunteers is providing a support system that will enable each person to feel secure and competent in his responsibilities. This must include regular meetings to review progress. Are the activities progressing according to the schedule? Are they resulting in the desired objective? Does the volunteer need additional training in order to perform the tasks effectively? What additional physical or financial resources does the person need?

Having regular meetings with the basic organizational units of the church is one of the best ways to provide this regular support system to volunteer workers. One quickly recognizes that this will require many meetings. Again, this is where the organizational and administrative structure of the management system comes into play. The manager, or pastor, can organize the church so that he does not have to be at all these meetings himself. He need only conduct regular staff meetings with the key leaders of the church who are conducting review meetings with their subordinate leaders and reporting to him the progress of the groups under their supervision. The pastor holds the key leaders responsible for their area of supervision, and they in turn hold their subordinate leaders responsible for their area of responsibility. In this way the church can be brought together in a team effort that provides fellowship, encouragement, training, accountability, and church growth.

Finally, conduct an annual evaluation of each activity or program. Is it an essential activity that is contributing positively to the goals of the church? Is the individual responsible for carrying out the activity performing adequately? Is the person willing to continue that responsibility for another year? What additional skills or tools does the person need to continue to carry the assigned responsibility effectively? Could the job description be adjusted to make the activity more effective?

Notice E. G. White's grasp of the basic managerial concept: "Well-defined plans should be freely presented to all whom they may concern, and it should be ascertained that they are understood. Then require of all those who are at the head of the various departments to cooperate in the execution of these plans. If this sure and radical method is properly adopted and followed up with interest and good will, it will avoid much work being done without any definite object, much useless friction."—Manuscript 24, 1887.

It may appear at first that this approach will make more work for the pastor. Just the opposite can be true. Organization is not just an added burden of dull and demeaning work. It can become a means to achieve effectively the objective of the church, providing the pastor the time and freedom to pray, study, and plan for a greater and more effective program of spiritual and numerical growth in his church.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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John W. Fowler is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

July 1983

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