Make Your Church A Safe (Snake-free) Place to Serve
By: Sue Brage of ChurchVolunteerCentral
According to legend, Ireland was once filled with snakes. Sort of like Kansas with rocks or Nebraska with cows! Apparently (the myth tells us) the country was overrun with the venomous creatures until St Patrick drove them out.
Here's the thing about snakes. A: they are gross. But B: they sneak up on you. You may not be aware they are hiding there in the grass, or lurking under the porch, or curled up under the horseradish plant. You walk gingerly, but there is still the fear that you may come upon one undiscovered. Not a good thought!
If the story were true, St Patrick was doing Ireland a great service in my opinion. His legendary staff drove the snakes into the sea never to return. In the Bible, a staff is symbolic of authority and leadership. That means as leaders, we also have the power to drive snakes out of our midst! But, who has ever heard of snakes in church? Well, I'm not talking about actual snakes, but there are some very poisonous creatures that can creep in and cause destruction. They can poison relationships, scare people away, and strike when we least expect them.
Here are some "snakes" that may have crept in undetected...
Misunderstandings are going to happen. As a leader, you can't prevent every one, but you may be able to minimize them. Make it a strict policy to communicate openly with your team and expect they will do the same. When necessary, facilitate discussions to help others talk about issues or concerns in a healthy way. Encourage your team to talk only with those people who are involved or part of the solution. When you create a safe environment for people to speak their minds you will keep the snakes at bay.
This is a sneaky snake, often targeting leaders first. If you have been a victim of discouragement's bite, call for help! Let others know you need extra support and prayer. Make time to stop at remember your successes and victories both as a leader and as a team and you will begin to recover. Just don't try to go it alone.
The symptoms of burn out are not always obvious. But if left untreated, this bite can be fatal!
The people on your team need healthy boundaries for work, serving, family, and fun times. They may need your encouragement to enforce these boundaries. Whenever possible give volunteers the freedom to take time off, change positions (or shifts) to help keep things fresh. Holding an annual "review" with each person can help you evaluate where people are and how they are feeling about serving. This will allow you to talk openly about what adjustments would be helpful.
When fatigue creeps in, there is really only one solution: rest. Whether you (or a team mate) are feeling mentally, physically, or emotionally fatigued, you need to get away and let down. No one can give all the time. There must also be seasons of refreshment. Create downtimes for your self and your team by not over scheduling, building in times for retreat, and encouraging others to step in when one person needs a break.
Well, this snake is a little harder to drive out. When it becomes apparent that a volunteer is in it for the wrong reasons or is trying to further their own ministry and agenda, you may need to step in and take action. Direct communication--done with a humble and loving spirit--is the best way to go. While it can be difficult, it is necessary to keep the team functioning as a well-oiled, snake-free machine!
Discontent comes when someone begins to feel bored, overlooked, and can be a sign that burn out is on the way. Gently help that person reconnect with what they enjoy about serving. Find a creative way to show them the difference they are making so they know that God is working through right where they are. Encourage them also to consider what other areas they might enjoy serving and consider moving in that direction.
Like St. Patrick, you can drive these snakes out of town and make your church a healthier, safer place to worship and serve.
Sue Brage worked in nonprofit marketing and communications for more than nine years before joining Group Publishing as Online Publisher and Editor for Church Volunteer Daily.com. Her experience as a writer, editor, and volunteer coordinator (not to mention wife and mother) gives her a unique perspective and ability to encourage and help leaders. She has a big heart for people and great passion for helping others serve their churches and communities better. Follow Sue on Twitter at @SueB rage and @CVCDaily