The Burn-Out Myth

Give your leaders a toolbox.

Give your leaders a set of 10 or 12 options they can go to any time. For example: If you have a weekly Bible story review, give them 10 different Bible review games and train them how to lead them. Keep all the materials needed for these games on hand so they are easily accessible. Then, when you write the lesson plan, just put in 10 minutes for a Bible review game and leave the rest up to them. When they get to choose, they can experiment and see what their group likes and dislikes. Their group may love a certain game and play it for six weeks. Then, when it starts to get old, they try a few new things until something else catches on. Having choices allows leaders to figure out their group and what feels good.

Encourage them to go above and beyond and then let them figure out how to accomplish their idea.

Maybe they want to give an occasional small prize for memorizing a verse. Or they want to help their group start a prayer journal. Maybe they want to send a card to all their kids. Great! Encourage them to go for it, but don’t try to jump in and do it for them. You can’t fund or facilitate every idea that comes up, but if you only do the things you can fund or facilitate, you’ll greatly limit your impact and the creativity of your volunteers. Most of the time, volunteers can pull off the ideas they have on their own. A small bag of prizes, some notebooks from the dollar store, or a box of cards aren’t too extravagant for a volunteer to take care of on their own. Kids will love these types of small gestures and all the volunteers feel like they’re making a difference…because they are.

Allow volunteers to care for other volunteers.

I’ve always wanted children’s ministry to look like a collection of small groups—groups of volunteers who serve together and care for and support one another. If you will choose capable volunteers who are great at caring for and loving on others, and then organize your teams around those individuals, everybody can be cared for at a higher level and you can be freed up to care for the more serious issues and for the leaders who are caring for others.

Let your doers do.

Some volunteers are great at caring for others. Some are amazing with kids. And some just like to get stuff done. These people can be a blessing. Much of what consumes you on Sunday are the hundreds of tasks that need to get done. But on Sunday you need to be with people. So let your doers run. Many times we take our doers and try to make them leaders. They might be high energy, active, very committed—exactly what we need—but we often put them in the wrong places. We use them as fill-ins for volunteers who don’t show up. We set them up in leadership roles that mainly focus on caring for people. We do everything but give them what they do best, because we think we’ll burn them out working on all those details and solving all those problems. But there are people who love that stuff. They don’t want to teach kids; they’ll never prepare a lesson. And, frankly, they just don’t care that much that your dog is suffering from canine depression. But give them a problem to solve or a task to be done and they’re in heaven. They love solving problems, will work themselves silly and go home feeling great. They won’t give a thought to what happens at church all week long, but they’ll spring out of bed the next Sunday morning ready to go.

If all of this seems like too much for a volunteer, you’re right. It is too much. Here’s why it works.

First, I learned something significant from my father. He was a pastor and I swear he could say to a tree, “Come help me,” and the tree would get up to help. I’ve heard him ask a volunteer to show up and paint the fellowship hall and, “Oh yeah, you’ll need to buy the paint and the brushes,” and people happily signed on for the job. When I asked him how he had the nerve to ask people to do stuff like this, he told me, “I’m not asking them to serve me. I’m asking them to serve God. What task is too big when it’s for God?”

Here’s the principle. If people know they’re serving God and what they’re doing is significant…if we keep this in front of them…then working hard and sacrificing is a joy. It’s an act of worship to God.

Second, let me take you back to the fire analogy. A fire that’s fed doesn’t burn out. A volunteer who’s fed also will not burn out. What fuels our volunteers is care and support. We can invest in them, support them, teach and guide them, cheer them on, celebrate their successes, tell their stories, and help them see their significance. When we spend our time doing these things, we fuel the fire in the volunteers God has entrusted to us.

When we allow volunteers to work hard and take responsibility, we free ourselves to care for and support our volunteers. We should put our primary energies not into making their job easy and doing things for them, but rather into helping them feel the significance of what they do, caring for and supporting them in that role. When we do this, we will be continually adding fuel to the fire that God sparked in our volunteers. Instead of burning out, they will burn stronger and brighter. A fire like that spreads to kids and to others who long to serve God and make a difference in the lives of others.

How you spend your time matters. Will you burn yourself and your volunteers out by trying to do it all yourself? Or will you raise the bar, give away significance and responsibility, and invest your life in fueling your volunteers?

This article originally appeared here.

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Joey Waters is the Children’s Ministry Production Director at Austin Ridge Bible Church in Austin, TX. He has worked in family ministry for over ten years specializing in large group production. Joey lives in Austin, Texas where he enjoys eating queso and listening to as much live music as humanly possible.