We all have gifts, graces, and talents given to us by God. As Christians, we are called to serve God and use these gifts, graces, and talents. Congregations would not be able to offer its programs or opportunities for ministry without volunteers. Leadership is often “tasked” with finding volunteers to serve a variety of roles, including that of teacher and mentor for children and youth. It’s not about recruiting warm bodies, it as about an invitation into ministry. Here are some tips and pointers to invite others to share their gifts through the ministries of teaching and learning in your congregation. It is a call to ministry.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Matthew 9:37
vol·un·teer – n. one who chooses freely to do something vt. To offer or give of one’s own free will. vi. To offer to enter into service of one’s own free will.
Why do people volunteer?
- They want to be needed
- They want to help others and make a difference
- They want to learn new skills or use skills they already have
- They want to belong to a caring community and feel accepted as members
- They seek self-esteem and affirmation
- They want to grow in their faith and share their God-given gifts
- They want to keep from being lonely
- They want to support causes they believe in
When seeking to involve people in ministry:
- Focus on the needs in people’s lives, not the needs of your program “ . . . harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
- Ask God to supply the right people. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)
- Help the present workers to succeed. (Matthew 10)
Each local church has been given the gifts needed to carry out its ministry of equipping the saints. Ephesians 4
In preparation for calling people to teach and to lead in your congregation, spend some time alone or with others in Bible study. Certain passages of scripture may be helpful:
- I Corinthians 12:27 – 13:13. This reminds us of the gifts given to us and our need to work together as one body – the Body of Christ.
- Ephesians 4:11-16. Again we are reminded of our gifts and admonished to grow in every way in Christ.
- Romans 12. Here we read the marks of a true Christian that challenge every one of us as we grow in faith.
What qualities do you seek? As you begin to think about calling persons to ministry, it is important to know what qualities you’re seeking in your teachers. Developing a position description is helpful.
- A willingness to grow and learn along with their students.
- Knowledge of their students – their likes and dislikes, their joys and sorrows.
- A knowledge of how people learn and grow through life stages (providing training or information on Howard Gardiner’s Multiple Intelligences as well as faith development theories is helpful to everyone)
- A faith that is seen not only in the words they speak, but in their actions in the congregation and in the larger community.
- A growing knowledge of the Bible and a willingness to continue to study and ponder the scriptures.
- A teaching style that invites others into the learning situation and awakes in them a desire to know God as they see God known by their teacher. This presupposes that the teacher sees their role as a learning companion, not one who knows and provides all the answers.
- A willingness to share their love of God and Jesus Christ, as well as their own questions and struggles with their faith (when appropriate).
- The capacity to say “I don’t know” and “Let’s see what we can discover together.”
Develop a team. If at all possible, have more than one person involved in the task of identifying teachers and leaders. Working as a team, it is often easier to identify gifts and talents. As you prepare to contact persons, remember:
- Approach the task of identifying potential teachers and leaders with prayer.
- Be open to people who may not immediately come to mind. Don’t limit your thinking to persons who already seem to have the skills and abilities necessary for teaching. Look for those who are willing to learn and are open to new experiences.
- Decide who should contact each person identified.
- Talk with each person you invite. If you send out a letter (or e-mail) of invitation, follow up with a personal phone call or visit and conversation.
- List the gifts and talents you see in each person you are asking. List how these gifts and talents can be used in the job you are proposing to them.
- Be honest. Give a realistic idea of the time needed, the length of service (including when it will end), what support they can expect from the congregation, and to whom they can go for help.
- Take time to explain the ministry / role thoroughly, including any information you think might help the person know more about what you’re asking him or her to do.
- Give your personal experience and appraisal of the rewards and down sides
- Be enthusiastic. Teaching is an important job. Your attitude communicates the joys of teaching and learning.
- Give people time for thought and prayer. Just as you didn’t arrive at the names of people to approach without prayer, you can’t expect those you are inviting to accept without time for reflection and prayer.
- Be persistent. Honor absolute “no’s.” Listen for indications that the person might be interested. The timing might not be right, but they may be willing to teach at a later date. Or they may need to observe someone else teaching before they agree to assume a teaching role. They might be willing to be a substitute or volunteer as part of a team instead of teaching each week.
Communicate. Pray. Let the whole church know you are discerning who might be called to the ministry of teaching. Simply putting an announcement in the bulletin or making a verbal plea usually brings out the ‘usual suspects’ and often those who do not have the right skills or appropriate attributes you are seeking. But all the community to pray with you! Lift up the needs of Christian education in your Sunday prayers during worship.
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion. Keep our hearts and minds open to discern the gifts that you have given all of your people, so that we may find those who are called to teach and learn with our children, youth and adults. Send us those who have a love for Your Word and children (or youth), that they can support us in our ministry as teachers and learners; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (Adapted, 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 230)
Once you have your teachers – don’t stop there! Tips for keeping all types of volunteers:
- Find or develop opportunities for them to get involved right away.
- Have clear goals and expectations of what they will do.
- Be flexible! Have volunteer projects on weekends & weekdays, morning and evenings. This kind of diversity of opportunity will enable individuals to balance school, work, family, and service.
- Make sure volunteers understand the importance of the task they are doing and how it fits into the overall mission of the church.
- Never allow people to feel that you wasted their time or that they weren’t really needed.
- Provide food and refreshments whenever possible or appropriate.
- Keep up on and celebrate birthdays of committed volunteers.
- Provide a structure so that those who want to can take on roles of greater responsibility.
- Give honest and sincere praise. Say “thank you.” Make people glad they came and participated.
- Make the specific project an “event” – make it more interesting than staying home and watching it.
- Recognize volunteers in announcements, publications (weekly bulletin, newsletter, website), meetings, etc.
- Have parties, retreats, picnics, and other “off-duty” events to celebrate ministries and fellowship.
- Give volunteers titles if appropriate – Coordinator, Assistant Coordinator, Lead Organizer, etc.
Download this tip sheet: CallingTeachersToMinistry