At the start of the month I spent three days with three of my volunteers at a Children's Leaders conference. I have to be really honest and say that, by and large, specialised events are not my thing. I much prefer conferences that are holistic in their approach i.e. deal with issues that affect all leaders. So attending the Holy Spirit in the World today conference (please read here ) was much more my thing because it was the first overtly theological conference I had been at, so it covered a LOT of information, I processed information that I took home with me to pastoral AND teaching settings.
I find that stereotypes can abound at "womens' conferences" or "youthwork conferences" and in some ways the Children's Leaders event was no different
"c'mon we can all woop and make some noise and get excited cos we're kids workers"
err. no. I won't. I can't make myself behave like a "typical" person who works with children because I'm not. I'm me, with a unique role and purpose and I suppose I get into bother sometimes because I am not exactly fitting into the expectation that occasionally get thrust upon me!
I didn't exactly choose to do what I do. I got chosen. Some blog readers will know the story; others won't. But I heard God speak to me. He said: "work with younger children" (I taught 11 to 18 year olds as a job). He said it was for what was to come and that I was to release others to do lead children, to disciple children and to show families new to faith how to go on in their faith. So I try to train and release others, take something new out there, then train and release others, whilst listening as closely as I can to God for what the next thing is that I have to do.
I can't get away from my desire to be OUT there with the families and the children who don't have Jesus in their lives, twinned with an appetite to see those who know him as a friend to know him as the source of life and power;as a freedom-giver. We have such an army of children in the UK who are just getting by and no more as Christians, and its time for them to rise up as victors, not victims.
Becky Fischer, in her book "Redefining Children's Ministry in the 21st Century" notes that many people who pastor children in these current days did not intend to go into this area of ministry but found themselves sensitive to God's call to do "for what is to come". HOW EXCITING!!!!!
There was one session at Children's Leaders conference in particular that really stood out for me and I will post on it in due course. If you are a leader in ANY CAPACITY, please come back and read it as I believe it was of national prophetic significance. As I am on holiday without my work notes, I need to write it up when I get back.
I went to this conference principally to hear Mike and Marilyn Seth, who are to be listened to and learnt from because of their great experience and huge humility. But more about that next week. Suffice to say, it is of immense importance to those who want to see the transformation of the nation through the rising generations.
The value of such a specialist conference was that I took some of my volunteers with me - and that kind of experience, being away together, is priceless...we talked, prayed, planned where we were going and I got the chance to see exactly what God was marking out for them to do and the direction I could really easily nudge them into and let them lead.
In September I changed the way we taught children utterly and completely (due to a lack of space; not enough rooms!) and modelled a different way of teaching for 4 weeks, so that others could then take over, with me helping each "Presenter" think about planning and teaching week by week. I have an outstanding team, very loyal to me personally and incredibly open to all that is ahead. The relief team (school holidays) are similarly qualified, as was my summer holiday club team. The volunteers are a real blessing - I have five teams for different areas of ministry/work and I haven't had to advertise for a single person this year, in fact one or two of the smaller teams within the main five teams are in abundance. What an absolute privilege and I *never* take this for granted. Volunteers are another group of people I am called to care for and love and encourage and impart into....more of the Holy Spirit and his gifts so that we never, ever rely on just good work and great skills. I want to teach and model that we need him so!
I have been asked twice this week: how do you keep volunteers? How do you motivate volunteers? Here are my personal tips for retaining people for more than a year.
1. Passion - yours (mine) - what do you REALLY believe in with children and families? Do your team know YOUR vision? Does it rub off on them after they have been with you? I don't mean you wag a finger and impose stuff but....try to allow the Holy Spirit to re-invigorate and refresh you regularly....some Sunday mornings I struggle to get up and out but once I have spent time in the bible and prayed (often puring out my heart!); even for a short time, and then I see some children I know, or some mums who are new to faith, or some faithful serving families.....it all floods back...the love and the care and the desire to serve.
2. Time - for your volunteers - are you there for them and do they know that? I know I can do better on that but I try my best, given the time I have. I constantly wish I could do more - I carry quite a large pastoral/service planning load. I lead evangelistic initiatives, see people for prayer ministry and do some whole family discipleship and support as well. More recently I have been working with some external agencies to provide support to some vulnerable people. This in itself takes up a bit of time but I am seeing the church receive real favour here and it feels as if it is the "shape of things to come" with budget cuts etc.
BUT in my weekly plan I always look to see: who can I take out for coffee this week? Not email. Not text. See in person. I always have a half/whole day that is unbooked to allow me to react to who God brings to mind; which volunteer might need a wee bit of encouragement this week? I try to be a pastor to my volunteers and again, I think they know this as I tell them of my love and appreciation for them as often as I can.In my low moments I feel utterly failing in this as my current church is very large and sometimes it seems that there are so many people I would love to spend time with but I am restrained by normal human limitations - never enough time....
3. Graft - real hard work. I need to be around the things my volunteers are; not at every meeting nor every event. I need to know every child by name and a little bit about their story..how did they come to be at our church? Who do they come with? Are there any pastoral issues that I need to know about? (therefore I get to know families and visit at home; pray with parents, offer support, both spiritual and practical)
4. Advocacy - I am able to represent the lives of young people and their families at the highest level of our church governance; in decisions, in planning - I always think: how will this affect children and my volunteers? Will it encourage and bless them? It means that the volunteers know I am there for their best.
5. Resourcing - I go out of my way to read, research, buy and disseminate music, creative resources, teaching material, collect testimonials and visual clips that advance news about the AMAZING things God is doing all over the world....I give my team access to this (again, I could do better at this, we have v little office space and meet in another building from where the offices are) and by and large, money is not an issue. What I mean by this is that my church blesses me and what I do hugely and I want to pass this on to my volunteers. They know I will budget in for whatever we need and it will be done. If they buy stuff, I arrange for their reimbursement promptly. If they need something, I'll either get it for them or work towards getting it for them when I set my next year's budget. So volunteers have a sense, again, that there is someone who is for them.
I know many reading this have to buy supplied out of their own pocket and couldn't even claim the price of a CD back from their church treasurer and with all my heart I pray for an abundance on what you do. I know having a full time worker is not possible for many churches but I really believe that the tips I h ave given above can be carried out by one person - a volunteer or a minister in sole charge - who gives themselves over to bless children's/youth volunteers.
I know with all my heart that God wants to pour out blessing on children. I can't give out loads of details here, but over the past 8 years I have seen God provide even seemingly impossible things for children and family ministry in the churches I have worked in. I have big faith for this...which is being tested at the moment in the building we meet in which is not big enough!
The one example I can give you is that I really, really wanted preschoolers furniture for 14-20 children. Have you seen the price of wee tables and chairs in educational catalogues? Not IKEA plastic tables and chairs, I wanted solid, good stuff. To cut a long story short, I almost accidentally spotted a commercial auction selling classroom supplies and I got a whole junior classroom, story stools, tables, chairs, wheeled storage...the whole lot for £150. Oh the goodness of God - we discovered that one of the six tray-ed storage units I got would have been £150 on its own!
As I publish my list I have thought of some more tips on how to retain volunteers that I would add; come back tomorrow (or in a day or two) for more......