One of the difficulties I face occasionally as a pastor grows out of the need to find people to do the things that need to be done in the church. Actually, the problem comes from the willingness of some people to volunteer for anything. More than once as a pastor, I have faced the task of asking for volunteers, knowing that as soon as the notice went out, so and so would immediately volunteer. Unfortunately, so and so would be absolutely the last person for the position.
I know–God gives everyone gifts and sometimes the gifts are hidden and people can surprise us by fitting perfectly in the job and we have to give people a chance and all that–but the truth is that eventually, we can just know that the combination of so and so and that particular job will be a catastrophe. So and so’s track record means they will eagerly volunteer and then proceed to do nothing, do the wrong thing, offend people, misunderstand the limits of the position and/or make a serious mess of the whole thing.
Just as there are people like me who are reluctant to volunteer, so there are also people who volunteer for anything. Some are driven by a need to be liked and accepted; some are driven by a desire for power and authority; some are driven by an unrealistic view of their abilities–but whatever the reason, when the call for volunteers goes out, they are right there, ready, willing but not always able.
As a pastor, I have learned–and used–the various political manoeuvres to avoid giving the perpetual volunteer an opening. I have spent time privately considering the job and the abilities of people and then offered the job to someone without the public call for volunteers; I have offered the perpetual volunteer a different job first to keep them from volunteering for the other job and occasionally, I have simply had to tell people they can’t have the job.
I have a problem with the perpetual volunteers. For years, I thought that my problem was trying to keep the perpetual volunteer out of jobs. A variation of the problem was containing my irritation when the perpetual volunteer ends up with a job they really aren’t going to do much for. Occasionally, the problem is the sense of elated “I could have told you so” when the perpetual volunteer inevitably messes things up.
But I think now that I have been focused on the wrong problem. The problem isn’t keeping the perpetual volunteer out of a job but finding the job they are called to–and maybe some pastoral help to enable them to understand their need to volunteer no matter what.
I can’t do much about the perpetual volunteers in places and organizations where I have no input. But in churches where I am involved, I have input. If I am the pastor, my input is significant–and it just might be that part of my job is helping the perpetual volunteer in the church identify their real gifts and calling and then help them find–or even develop–the job that God has already set aside for them.
I am not talking about developing fake jobs like assistant garbage can inspector or Sunday School teachers’ closet prayer warrior. I am talking about taking the time to pray and search and work with the individual to discover where God is really calling them. This is not an approach I have used in the past but I think it should probably become my approach. I spend a lot of time as a pastor encouraging the perpetual non-volunteer to open themselves to God and his gifts–now, maybe I need to learn how to give equal time and effort to the perpetual volunteer to achieve the same results.
In the overall scheme of things, that will probably work much better for me and the perpetual volunteer. As a pastor, I have never had more than one or two perpetual volunteers in the church at any one time and so it is likely that the time I spend trying to keep them out of a job will be sufficient to help them find their real job. I will let you know how it works out.
May the peace of God be with you.