How To Pastor Your Church Volunteers

This post has been adapted from episode 16 of our podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast here or read the transcript below. 

Kevin Fontenot: Hey there, I’m Kevin Fontenot and I’m here with Scott Magdalein. We’re your hosts of the Thriving Ministry Teams podcast where we talk about all things related to church leadership, discipleship and training. On today’s episode we’re talking about how to pastor your volunteers. Scott you and I talk a lot about leadership development and training but we haven’t talked a lot about and I believe the church as a whole hasn’t talked a lot about pastoring volunteers and looking out for their spiritual health.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah I mean I think there’s a general understanding that that’s an important or good thing. But I think like we tend to as leaders tend to think like the people that we pastor or the people we actively pastor are people that reach out and need help. Right. So more like pastoring in a sense of pastoral care and almost more like a good pastoral triage. So we are hands off with our people unless they reach out for help otherwise we just kind of resource them with reading materials or make sure they’re coming to church or make sure that the groups are good. But the people that you lead as a ministry leader, especially a team leader who you’re directly responsible for volunteers. You have an incredible opportunity and I would say the burden or even a call or command to pastor those people. We can probably get into the ins and outs of actually what that pastoring looks like in the rest of this conversation but the demand there, the command, the burden or the responsibility to pastor those people is real and I think we’re going to make the case today that you should be looking for ways to pastor people that are serving under you in a team capacity.

Kevin Fontenot: Absolutely. I completely agree with that. One of the biggest things and I think you hit on it a little bit is the problem of seeing our ministry leaders that are serving alongside us as just co-laborers instead of seeing them as people that were actively pastoring, they were actively discipling, we just see them as people doing that are doing the work with us. And we see the people that we’re pastoring as the people that we’re serving. So if we’re a greeter ministry we see our greeters as those co-laborers alongside of us and we see the people we’re serving as the people walking through those doors. I think we can do a lot better job at raising up those people that are serving alongside of us and making sure that we are taking care of them from a pastoral standpoint.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, honestly without even reaching out beyond into other aspects of scripture like the driving passage that drives TrainedUp could very easily be applied to pastoring your volunteers, the teams that you lead and you’re working to equip them with skills and with personal development, but equipping the saints for the work of ministry for the purpose of the unity and Body of Christ that comes after spiritual roles. Paul named out the several spiritual roles, evangelist, teacher, that kind of stuff. And so the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry is not just an equipper as far as like giving skills and developing them personally but also like in the role of you’re a spiritual leader in their life. And so because of that and because they look to you as a leader, you have a responsibility to also pastor them. Not as the only Pastor, not as the only spiritual leader that they have access to or that they go to, but, because you’re in the role, you should be actually functioning in that role at some level.

Kevin Fontenot: Yeah, I love… I just looked up Ephesians 4 because I wanted to remember exactly what it said, and in Verse 13 it says, “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of Christ,” and I just love that because it’s not just about equipping people for the work of Ministry and that’s what we talk about all the time when we’re reciting that sort of passage of scripture, we’re always talking about the work of Ministry and equipping people for the work, but it’s really about that fullness and maturity of raising people up as well.

Scott Magdalein: It absolutely is, and what’s funny is when we, even us… I’ll talk personally. Even myself, I look at that passage and I tend to hone in on Paul giving us an efficiency, like a suggestion for efficient Ministry, right? Equipping the Saints for the work of Ministry. It’s like, well, he’s talking about delegating, and then not just delegating tasks but delegating responsibility and then making sure they have the skills and the knowledge and the development to be able to execute on those things well and be good stewards of the things that they’re suppose to be doing in Ministry.

Scott Magdalein: But really, like, it’s really important to read that whole passage in its own context because if you understand as… you know, like, just a person that’s director of training, which we… you know, training is good but it’s not the only aspect of it. If it’s just a director of training that’s just training people, and that’s how you look at Ephesians 4, you’re missing a humongous… you’re missing all of the context. The equipping of the skills is just a small part of equipping people because you have a deeper understanding, if you read the whole thing, of what it’s for, and then if you have an understanding of what it’s for and who’s doing it, then you get a big picture idea of what it looks like to equip people, and again, I do believe that includes pastoring them. Being there personally to talk to them and walk with them through life, at some level.

Kevin Fontenot: Absolutely. One of the things I wanted to talk about is volunteer burnout and turnover, they’re things that every Ministry leader has experienced if they’ve been working for more than a couple of weeks on the job. How does spiritual health play into these two areas?

Scott Magdalein: Oh man, so, we talk about burnout and turnover, sometimes we use the phrase, “volunteer turn,” but really, the idea that volunteers are going to be burning out or quitting on any kind of measurable pace has a lot to do… it has much more to do with their spiritual growth, their spiritual maturity, their spiritual connection to community, than it has anything to do with the actual time they spend. Because, honestly, if they’re spending and hour a week serving, and they say that they’re burned out from spending an hour a week serving every single week… the reason that they’re burned out is not from the hour a week. I guarantee you that an hour a week is not gonna burn anybody out. The reason they’re burning out is because they don’t believe in it, they’re not connected to a mission, or they’re not connected to other people. And if you’re seeing a lot of burnout, if you’re seeing a lot of volunteer turn, then just doing more training, just doing better communication is not going to be the sole thing that moves a needle to reduce your burnout rate.

Scott Magdalein: Because, again, people don’t quit because they think it’s too much work to show up for an hour every week to setup and break down, or to shake hands with, or to change diapers on a Sunday morning. People don’t burnout from an hour a week of work.

Kevin Fontenot: One of the most common things I hear from volunteers in the past when I’ve been leading teams is, “Man, I just don’t feel like doing this anymore, it’s just not something that I’m really passionate about,” and those sort of indicators are red flags to me that someone isn’t actively growing in their spiritual walk when they no longer are onboard with the mission and vision of what we’re doing. It’s really easy for volunteers to get onboard with mission and vision, we do a great job of that in the church. We talk about it from stage, we talked about needing volunteers for certain Ministry areas, we talked about why those things are important, and it’s easy for people to come onboard then, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s go do this thing.” What becomes difficult is when they don’t continue to see the value in the mission and vision, and that ultimately, I believe, comes from this idea of spiritual health as well as just being in a solid position to be able to minister to other people.

Kevin Fontenot: And if we’re not doing that as Ministry leaders and making sure that our teams are growing, that we’re spending time with him, we’re asking them the probing questions of how they’re doing… we’re gonna have a high burnout rate and a high turnover rate because people just are no longer going to understand the mission and vision of what we’re doing.

Scott Magdalein: Whenever I see somebody, or whenever somebody will often… when I’m in the role of a Ministry leader and not just a volunteer, because right now I’m in the role of a volunteer which has actually been giving me a lot of great insight. Just somebody who shows up on a Sunday morning and get a job done. So whenever I’m in the role as a Ministry leader, and I have somebody who comes to me and says they’re not connected to it, they’re not really enjoying what they’re doing, or let’s say they fill out one of our volunteer engagement surveys that I like to run as Ministry leader and they’re answers are things like, “When I show up I am already tired, already not looking forward to it, and when I leave I’m exhausted.” Those people who give me that kind of a feedback are people who are not only having a difficult time, usually, in their own spiritual walk… not always, it’s not always connected to, you know, they haven’t done a quiet time in a year… but, a lot of times it’s connected to their personal spiritual walk.

Scott Magdalein: But most of the time it’s a matter of they don’t feel connected to each other in Ministry, so they don’t feel connected in a community, and they don’t feel connected to a leader that is listening to them, that cares for them, that wants to make sure that they’re not just doing a good job, but also being engaged and being fulfilled in their own work. And so those things, making sure people are connecting with other people, that’s a pastoral role. Making sure that people are heard and people are engaged and people are fulfilled in the work that they’re doing is a pastoral role, in my opinion.

Scott Magdalein: And so the work of Pastoring… I think we’re gonna get to this soon, about the amount of time this takes… but the work of pastoring itself pays off. I mean if we’re talking about, you know, returns, let’s say, like, get down to numbers about it, you know, the time that you spend pastoring and talking to people will pay off dividends in the long run by reducing the number of people who are negative. They show up and they don’t serve well, that means they don’t interact with guests well, that means they don’t interact with parents… let’s say our kids Ministry volunteer… they don’t interact with parents well or they’re not patient with the kids in their room, or maybe they’re a greeter and they don’t smile because they’re not really loving it, or they’re a production person and they don’t pay attention to the details so there’s typos in the words on the screen or the lighting cues are late because they’re not paying attention because they’re not engaged.

Scott Magdalein: All these little things that kind of start to slip are things that are related to someone who’s not engaged, and that engagement is highly related to their connection to one another and the connection to their leader, and, to me, that’s heavily solved by, or at least impacted by spending time pastoring those people that you lead.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s a really good point. I hadn’t really thought about the pastoral role being more of the connecting side of it as well. I feel like that’s something that isn’t talked about a lot.

Scott Magdalein: So I was outside of Pittsburgh recently in a little place called Indiana, working at a little church conference called Back40 ran at a pretty good sized church called Summit Church. Anyway, I was there talking with a couple of different pastors and one of the things they talked about, and was really interesting to me, was their focus on connecting people. One of their pastoral roles is connecting people with other people. Not for accountability, so not connecting people into accountability relationships, not connecting people into bible study relationships, but connecting people into friendships and just connecting people who you might actually like to actually hangout with. So he’s like, you know, these pastors who are pastoring growing churches, especially in rural areas… they were saying that it’s becoming more and more of a pastoral role just connecting individuals with other individuals that they would actually become friends with. Because what they’ve seen, and I think this is anecdotal, but I think that there’s probably stats around this, you know, how people connect in community with other people…

Scott Magdalein: But they’ve seen if you have a friend in the church or a friend that you serve with, then the connection, that stickiness, that connection with some other human that you like is going to keep you around and help you make it through times when you don’t feel like you like the job, or you don’t feel like preaching is good, or you don’t feel like the music fits your format that you like the music. All the surface level things that might bother you about a church or about serving on a team, those things are handled or overcome by a personal relationship with somebody that when you show up on a Sunday morning they recognize you, you like them, you might actually, you know, these are the people who you… after you serve all Sunday morning with them they say, “Hey, let’s go to lunch together,” these are the people who text you funny gifs throughout the week because they’re you’re friend, you know, people that you connect with not just on Facebook because you feel obligated to accept their friend request, but the people that you actually message on Facebook and chat with and talk to them.

Scott Magdalein: So those connections with other people, human beings, one to one… for these pastors that I was talking to in Indiana, Pennsylvania, they were saying that that’s a prime role that they’re shifting their leaders toward to proactively connect individuals with other individuals in their church. Not for intentional discipleship relationship or bible study relationships, they say, “We have environments for those things, but we are specifically connected individuals with other individuals so they can connect with somebody and stick and stay because they have someone that they love and that cares about them in the church.” And to me, again, they were talking about this in the context of a pastoral role, not in an administrative role, not a program that they run, they don’t keep stats on it and track metrics on how many people have at least one friend. I think one of them actually does do that through one of their annual surveys, but, it’s not a program that they run, it’s something that they care about and they put a lot of effort into it from a pastoral perspective.

Kevin Fontenot: Okay, I’m definitely intrigued on that, but that’s a whole other conversation rabbit hole that we can go down on, so I’m not gonna get us stuck on that today.

Kevin Fontenot: You had kind of mentioned that… talking about that Ministry leaders already have a ton on their plates already and I’d love to kind of shift and talk about that a little bit. Why and how should Ministry leaders spend time pastoring their volunteers with so many other things they should be doing, including just doing Ministry themselves?

Scott Magdalein: Well yeah, I think that comes down to what’s valuable should be the thing you work on. And I think as Ministry leaders we tend to fill our plate with a lot of things that are paper pushing or paper shuffling, you might say, so moving ones and zeros from one bucket to another bucket kind of thing. And I think that as a Ministry leader you kind find efficiencies in other areas. Things like efficient ways to communicate, efficient ways to, of course, to onboard volunteers because sometimes a lot of our Ministry leaders spend a lot of time onboarding, doing the step-by-step checklist for onboarding new volunteers. If you can find efficiencies around doing that sort of thing, then you can free up time in your week to spend one-on-one time or lunch with a group of them, whatever it is, however you do it, time with the people that you lead not talking about purposeful development stuff about their job, but talking about them, talking about who they’re connected to, talking about life, talking about… you know, if I was a pastor in Ministry role right now, I’d be talking about my high hopes for the Jaguars.

Scott Magdalein: But that’s something that, on a pastoral level, helps you connect with somebody on a personal level so that you can be… it builds trust, it builds comradery, and it opens them up to have maybe more transparent conversations when the time is right. That takes a lot of time, so you have to find efficiencies in other areas of your Ministry work so that you can create time, create openings to be able to have coffee with people, invite them to your house, sit on the couch. If your the kind of church that maybe drinks, then have a beer with them. To me, it’s important to find efficiencies so that you can open up time for pastoral time with help.

Kevin Fontenot: Absolutely. One of the things that I know in conversations that I’ve had where people struggle with this as well, is wanting this to be completely organic instead of actually taking time to put systems and processes in place around pastoring. It’s completely okay to set a reminder on your phone to followup with every single person inside of your Ministry area and send them a quick text to see how they’re doing. That’s perfectly fine, it doesn’t have to be organic. It’s completely fine to setup a calendar date in the future to try and have lunch with someone before reaching out to them. Those are things where you can put those systems and processes in place that help you to remember to do these sort of things.

Kevin Fontenot: It’s really easy, it’s really simple, but a lot of times we overlook it just because we want it to feel organic, we think that it needs to be this organic conversation that happens, that it all just needs to flow naturally out of Ministry, but truthfully, if we just put a little bit more effort into it, setup some reminders, setup some guidelines inside of our devices, inside of whatever we’re using to make sure that we’re following up with people, to actually follow up with them, to actually create some of those purposeful times to get to know them better, to figure out what’s going on in their life, to encourage them. Those are really gonna make a big impact in our Ministry.

Scott Magdalein: And, honestly, so, take that one step further. If you don’t do those things, if you don’t make it a point to put it on your calendar, or set a reminder, or dedicate a day a week, or a morning every week to reach out to everybody on your team, then it’s just not gonna happen. There are too many things that are, you know, it’s that whole tyranny of urgent kind of thing, that we get pulled into urgent stuff even though those things aren’t necessarily always important things, or maybe they feel urgent but they’re not really that urgent. And we get pulled away from the high value things like sending a text message to somebody who looked like they may have had a bad morning Sunday and their smile was a little bit cardboard, a little bit fake, you know? Or maybe reaching out to somebody who you heard that they had a little bit of conflict in their children’s room and reaching out to them, seeing how they’re doing.

Scott Magdalein: One more anecdotal thing. I met with a guy this week, he is the CEO of a growing restaurant chain who got 29 locations. They started six years ago, they’re already at 29 locations and, in Jacksonville, they’re famous. They’re gonna get famous elsewhere, it’s the Maple Street Biscuit Company. The CEO is Scott Moore. They’ve got 700 something employees across 29 locations, so it’s a… and as employees, these are people that work 30 to 40 hours a week for them. And so, they’ve got 29 locations, which means that they’ve 29 store managers. The way Scott leads is that every one of the store managers has his cellphone. In the middle of our conversation, he got two phone calls that he picked up. He got several phone calls, two of them he picked up. He said those two people that he picked up the phone call for were store managers and he said, “I talk to every one of our store managers, they have my cell phone and not just, like, my cell phone but they never call me. They know that if they call me, I pick up no matter what I’m doing, I’ll interrupt a meeting to pick up a phone call with a store manager.”

Scott Magdalein: So those conversations aren’t about bottom line, they’re not about… not usually about managing conflict, he said they’re almost always about something personal for them. So what’s funny is he’s the CEO of a restaurant chain, but he acts in a… the way he functions is in a very pastoral way for his store managers, he calls them Community Leaders. To me, it’s a great example of how Ministry Leaders can be more available, more accessible, and even he even… he’ll also… once a week, he’ll send a text message to each one of them manually on his phone, not through some text messaging app, but manually send a message to each one of them. You know, something personal, something to connect with them throughout the week. So he personally manages, or personally pastors those people, all 29 of those people. And I think as Ministry Leaders, how much more of a responsibility do we have to be intentional about reaching out and being available to the people on our teams, even if it is a big time commitment. It’s the most important thing you can do as a Ministry Leader is to be available and be intentional about making time for pastoring your people.

Kevin Fontenot: That’s really good. I think there are sometimes where we can just get so wrapped up in our church world, or we just look to examples inside the church, and then we just take a little bit of a glance away into the business world and somewhere else where we can get just such great insight into ways that we can do our jobs better as Ministry Leaders. That’s awesome.

Scott Magdalein: What’s funny is Scott, I mean, of course, Scott is not just a businessman, he’s a strong Christian, his entire company, every location functions from Christian principles. He’s very people oriented and which is why there are job titles hinged around community building. Their store managers are called Community Leaders because they, he says that their job is people not profits. He says, “If you take take care of people, those people take care of customers and profits will come. We have other people on the backend that take care of margin and keeping cost down, but the store managers are about people development.” So, to me, he’s an inspiration. I scheduled a 30 minute meeting with him so I could learn from him about a few things, and it ended up going over an hour just because he’s a very generous-hearted person that I learned a lot about Pastoral Leadership from this guy that runs a restaurant chain.

Kevin Fontenot: So the last thing I wanted to talk about is some risks associated with pastoring your volunteers, and I say that kind of lightheartedly because the risks really aren’t risky, they’re just things to keep in mind when you’re doing this sort of pastoral outreach and oversight into your volunteer teams. Some of the risks that come up and some of the, you could say “downsides to it”, is you’re gonna start putting people above your to-do list. And this is something that is hard for people like me to get over, because I’m very much a success driven person, I want to achieve all the results. We took the enneagram test early this week, I found out that I’m definitively a three on the enneagram so I definitely solved all that, but this is something that’s difficult for me to do and so, when I think of risk around pastoring volunteers and pastoring people that are serving alongside me… it does seem like a risk, in my mind, because I know my to-do list is going to get blown out of the water. That there’s no way I’m going to be able to do everything on my to-do list and still be able to pastor people well.

Kevin Fontenot: But that’s completely fine and it’s something that should make a shift inside of my mind where I put people above the process of actually getting things done, because if we actually put people in front and we minister to them first and foremost, our to-do lists are eventually going to get done. We’re gonna raise up people, they’re gonna be able to handle things on top of that to-do list, we’re gonna be able to delegate to them and know that they are able to do those things, but when we put people first, we know they’re gonna stick around, we know that we can trust them, we know that we can rely on them to things, and we know that they’re gonna be spiritually healthy, emotionally healthy, and relationally healthy to be able to do some of those things alongside of us even better.

Kevin Fontenot: Some of the other risks that you may see when you’re starting to put pastoral emphasis into your Ministry area is, you may have to realize that you need to let some people go. After you start having some tough conversations, it may be in their best interest and the ministry’s best interest to let them sit on the sidelines for a while. You may decide that’s for a few weeks, a month, a six month period, there may be things going on inside of their life where they need to take a step back in order for their families, themselves, their jobs. And that’s something that you’re going to have to completely understand and be okay with, because your job is to pastor people first and foremost, it’s not to get ministry tasks done. You may be the small groups pastor, or the first impressions pastor at your church, but that pastoral role is the primary role, not the jobs inside of the ministry. People are always going to come first when we’re talking about our jobs as Ministry Leaders inside of the church.

Scott Magdalein: What’s funny… I mean, the flip side of that is not only are there risks to connecting more, like, more personally with people, it makes it harder to fire a volunteer because you’re connected with them and you’re friends with them and you’ve been walking through maybe some hard times with them… there’s risks like, “Well, I’m not going to get my week to week job done that my pastor expects me to get done,” or “the board of directors expects me to get done” as a, maybe a Lead Pastor. So there are those risks, but… so the flip side of that same coin is that the act of, or the process of, or the project, if you will, if you’re a ENTJ like me, is of being a pastor to people actually reduces those risks.

Scott Magdalein: So there are risks to it because you’re going to be connecting to people, you’re going to be spending more time outside of the office away from a computer, away from a task manager… but, if you’re pastoring people then you’re probably doing a better job of developing them, you’re probably doing a better job of giving away ministry if you’re gonna be doing a good job pastoring your volunteers. You’re probably connecting with people, which means you’re also going to reduce the risk of needing to fire people, which also means that you’re going to be understanding what they need, who they are, what they care about, what their passions are. And so, it may get to the point where instead of firing them, you’re going to replace them or place them in a new position because you know them, because you understand them better. And, honestly, it’s one of those things where you can head that off and so instead of them quitting or them feeling like they have to regrettably quit, they’re letting their friend down or whatever, they don’t have to quit an let you down, you can move them to another area because you know them better, because you’re caring for the person and not just for the job role that they’re filling.

Scott Magdalein: So, to me, there is more risks, there’s more personal risks to it, but, I think the act of pastoring also reduces some of those risks because you’re more involved in their life, because you know them better like a hands-on pastor would.

Kevin Fontenot: Absolutely. The benefits of it completely outweigh any real or perceived risk as part of pastoring people.

Kevin Fontenot: That does it for today’s episode of The Thriving Ministry Team’s podcast. If you’re interested in anything that we talked about today or you want to learn more about how to use an online tool for training so you can have more time to pastor your people, head over to trainedup.church, we’d love to have a conversation with you. We have a team of church training advisors that are there to help you understand how to utilize a tool like TrainedUp better for your church, to think through how to implement it inside of your Ministry. So if you head over to trainedup.church, you can get 50% off your first month of TrainedUp with the coupon code “Thriving”. Just head over to traineup.church, use that coupon code “Thriving” or hit us up in live chat and we’d be happy to help answer any question you have, whether it’s something we talked about on this podcast or if it’s training related, we’d love to have a conversation with you, and we’ll see you guys next week.

About Kevin Fontenot

Kevin is the Director of Marketing at TrainedUp. He is passionate about helping churches make disciples with technology. In the past, He has served on staff at churches, overseeing small groups and creative ministry. He lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Brooke and their two dogs.