I have a confession to make. Over the last 15 years of being involved in ministry, I have often felt used. Whether I’ve been on staff or served as a volunteer, I’ve often gone through seasons where I’ve just felt used by the leaders above me. As someone who serves in ministry, I’m guessing you’ve been through this season at least once or twice as well. We show up before everyone else, diligently perform our tasks and then are one of the last to leave while rarely receiving a “thank you,” or a word of encouragement. In fact, for many artists, we get the opposite; someone letting us know that we really didn’t do our best work that day. You feel alone. You feel unappreciated. You feel used. After 15+ years involved in ministry, I still often feel this way after weekend services.
Well, I have a second confession to make. I’ve been the ministry leader that has been a user of people. Not intentionally, mind you, but I’m guilty nonetheless. And it wasn’t until I realized what I was doing and started changing my approach that the teams I led began to grow. My guess is my story might be similar to yours.
My first couple of years as the appointed Technical Director were spent running around the building accomplishing as much as I possibly could while bringing along anyone who was crazy enough to follow and help. It wasn’t a large group. My first three years there, I had one part time assistant and our team generally hovered around 12 people, sometimes gaining one or two and at other times losing a couple. With two services every Sunday morning, one every Sunday night and one Friday night service per month, there was way too much work for only 12 people. We were desperate for more help, and did everything we could think of to recruit people and plug holes that needed to be filled. So our faithful 12 kept plugging away, working hard and rarely getting a break.
In 2005, we began heading into a remodel of our Sanctuary. It was decided that technology would be a big focus to upgrade our look and feel. This is what we had been dreaming of for a few years, but it also meant stretching our team further as our services would go from needing 4 technical positions to 8-10 per service. We were headed into trouble and began really looking hard at what was holding us back. Unfortunately, in every scenario I ran, the common problem was me. I was spinning my wheels so fast trying to make sure everything got done that I was spending little to no time investing in our team. I was frantically plugging holes alongside our people as the lead tech, not leading and encouraging them as a tech leader. Our volunteers weren’t being fulfilled in serving, and frankly neither was I. If we were to be fulfilled as 12, let alone grow, we had to right the ship and do it quickly.
One of the biggest challenges we have in churches is that we create so much work to do and another weekend is six days or less away. Whether it’s intentional or not, we often create so many programs and/or perceived needs that our staff and volunteers often feel used from week to week. Think about it for a moment: Do you regularly have to plead or beg people to help out? Do the people on your team consistently show up late for call time or skip out on rehearsals? Do your people know more about the tools you use (guitar, sound board, computer) than the people serving next to them? If you really think about it, too many of us often fall into the trap of using people to accomplish tasks without paying much attention to their well-being.
Recently I was watching the show “Elementary” and the main character, Sherlock Holmes, said something that could sum up what I so passionately wanted every volunteer that served under me to say:
“I feel as if I’ve thrived here, not because of who I am but because of whom I’ve come to know.”
I desperately want to experience that reality in the community in which I serve. I can only imagine that’s the same experience those serving with me long for as well. We all want to be connected to people and committed to a great cause, and we were letting them down. Pre-2005, we weren’t helping people thrive as we served together. We simply showed up, got the job done and headed home until next week. There was no ownership, little connection to each other and no one was thriving inside our ministry.
Eight years ago this is where our team was. I’ll never forget the day a few of us sat in my office and made the decision that we were no longer going to be “that ministry.” We made the decision to clearly and intentionally value people more than what they accomplished or the technology they used.
It wasn’t until we shifted from asking people to do something to asking people to belong to something that our ministry began to grow. The best part of all is that as our teams began to connect to our cause and each other, they began to thrive and other people naturally became interested in coming alongside us. But this time, when people would express an interest in joining us, the first question from our leaders became “who do you know,” not “what do you think you can do.” As intentional as we had become in creating a connected culture, we made sure to give new recruits a leg up by trying to connect them to teams where they already knew people.
We long for connection, desire to be valued and want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We naturally want to thrive, both individually and as part of a team. If you can create that type of culture for your team, you’ll grow by leaps and bounds and, who knows? You may begin to thrive again yourself too.