What volunteers really want is attention to their souls
The current literature on ministry with volunteers emphasizes frequent expressions of gratitude with thank-you notes, recognition from the pulpit, and an annual banquet. After all, everyone wants to be appreciated, right?
But addressing the question of “care and feeding” of volunteers, Dan Kimball points in a different direction—soul care. He tells this story:
“The local church is like a train. As the train travels quickly down the tracks, it is advancing the vision and mission of the church. People inside the train shoveling coal into the engine are serving in the church.
“From a window, two leaders call out to others to join the exciting mission. New people rise to the leaders’ challenge and hop aboard to serve Jesus. The church leaders continue casting their vision and inviting new people to join the mission. However, because the leaders are busy themselves, [they don’t see] the people who boarded the train to serve grow tired. Some may even fall into the fire fueling the engine and burn out.
“But the mission is still there. The train continues, and the leaders don’t even notice the weariness around them.”
Kimball’s story shows a need greater than appreciation—soul care.
It’s not a term Baptists use often, because in some circles, soul care gets kind of mysterioso. But in this case, we’re not describing the inward focus that results in chants and grunts and navel gazing. Outwardly focused, soul care is paying attention to the needs of others at a personal level. It’s pastoral. It’s the shepherd knowing the sheep deeply and well, by name and by need.
And for the flock—or in this case, the ministry team members—soul care is being noticed and tended.
The engineers in Kimball’s example are so busy drawing new workers to the task of stoking the engine that they miss the exhaustion of those who responded to the task earlier. Paying attention to the current workforce as well as issuing the call to future team members is a troublesome but necessary two-edged task. A leader is likely to be more gifted at one aspect than the other—drawing or tending—but both must
be done. And this is one reason why team sizes should be limited. Shepherds need time with the flock.
For many people, soul care is being given opportunity to be our best selves. And church life is where that can happen. Many people are not fulfilled in their work-a-day occupations. And everyone needs to do something that makes use of their best gifts, something that matters for eternity. When leaders have made that offer available, we have fed the soul at the deepest level.
Soul care is experiencing the love of Jesus by loving others. The love of Christ is that thing we find returned when we give it away. And everyone needs that. Effective soul care from effective leaders fuels effective—and joyful—ministry.