This post was written by Alter Live friend and advisor Dale Sellers. Dale is the Executive Director of 95Network and the author of Stalled: Hope and Help for Pastors Who Thought They'd Be There By Now. He has been in ministry for 40 years and is dedicated to helping small and mid-size churches get healthy.
I am constantly amazed at the phrases we say to others that are not easy to understand. One example I can recall from my childhood is of my grandmother saying, “Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.” Another phrase often used by sports commentators to describe an athlete at the top of his/her game is to say they are performing “in their wheelhouse.” And although we do not walk around with a pistol strapped to our side like in the Wild, Wild West, it is not uncommon to refer to an apprehensive person as being “gun shy.”
Growing older has allowed me to discover the actual meaning of some of these phrases. I learned that a gift-horse describes a horse someone has given to you. It is thought to be unappreciative to check its teeth for age and/or health in front of the giver.
The original meaning of wheelhouse is basically the house for the pilot of a ship to stay out of the weather while he navigates the waters. It can also be called the pilothouse. Therefore, an athlete performing in their wheelhouse means they are performing in a place of control where their expertise and skill are in the perfect spot or place.
Gun shy is used to describe a hunting dog that is too afraid to hunt because he is anticipating the loud bang of the gun which makes him nervous. To be gun shy is basically to be markedly distrustful, afraid, or cautious.
I am sure you have similar anecdotes from your experience as well! While reflecting on some of these phrases, I made a connection that relates to the experience of so many pastors. I believe many of us are gun shy! We have been disappointed and let down many times in ministry by those who have volunteered to help but did not follow-through. This lack of volunteer follow-through will often cause leaders to become markedly distrustful, afraid, and cautious.
Over time, this causes us to adopt the perspective that if I want something done right, or at all, then I have to do it myself. The danger with this style of leading is we seldom end up leading anyone. We keep potential helpers at bay in order to protect us from being disappointed again. It is the fear of another loud bang of disappointment that perpetuates this Lone Ranger mindset!
"This lack of volunteer follow-through will often cause leaders to become markedly distrustful, afraid, and cautious..."
Great Follow-Through is an Equipping Process
Every pastor has had experiences that can make us gun shy. It goes with the territory. However, development of leaders and volunteers still has to be a priority in order to create an atmosphere of consistent and steady growth. After all, Jesus gave us the responsibility of equipping the saints for ministry in Ephesians 4. We are not to do the work as much as we are to equip our people to do the work.
There are several simple equipping principles that you can use to help assure that volunteers follow-through with your direction. This is really the best way to make sure that what is said actually gets done. The alternative is always doing everything by yourself (which eventually leads to discouragement, disillusionment, and burnout).
Key Principles for Equipping Saints and Improving Follow-Through:
1 - Make it plain!
There is no better way to communicate with your volunteers than to always put desired objectives in writing. This will bring clarity and remove any possible misunderstanding or miscommunication. Instructions not written down seldomly get done.
2 - When possible, match roles with giftedness.
This is not always possible in a small church due to the limited volunteer pool. However, as you grow, it is important to remember that people tend to follow-through and serve faithfully when the objective connects with their passion and gifts.
3 - Equip leaders with the tools for success.
Nothing brings greater frustration to a volunteer than to be asked to do something without being given the resources to accomplish the task. They automatically feel set up for failure from the start. It is better not to start an initiative than to launch something without the tools for success. (This coincides with Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost before you build.)
4 - Resist the urge to manipulate and intimidate.
It still amazes me to see how many leaders use manipulation and intimidation to run an organization. This leadership style not only wears out the volunteers, it also eventually wears out the leader. Guilt and hype are only temporary solutions for motivating people. I learned many years ago that you cannot sustain hype! Motivation by anything other than vision will eventually fizzle out.
5 - Release responsibilities incrementally.
Jesus taught the principle that faithfulness over a little eventually leads to more responsibility. As desperate as you are for volunteers, don’t allow yourself to release too much too fast to new volunteers. Overwhelmed volunteers will eventually quit.
6 - Identify leaders of teams and empower them.
Remember when Moses’ father-in-law advised him to share his load? His advice was predicated on empowering leaders based on their ability to handle leadership at certain levels. Paul told Timothy to release leadership to followers who were both faithful and able. Once you have identified and recruited your leaders, it is imperative that you let them lead! Micromanagement will only lead to turnover.
7 - Inspect what you expect.
One of the difficulties of leading a volunteer organization is that you can never assume that folks will follow-through. However, this does not mean that you need to be cynical or down on your people. It just means you have to constantly stay in tune with your leaders to make sure things are running smoothly. Good communication is not always about passing or failing. Sometimes it's simply about tweaking and offering direction in order to achieve your intended purpose.
8 - Provide positive reinforcement.
Great leaders are awesome encouragers! We should always make it our goal as the leader to be a team member's biggest cheerleader and supporter, for both volunteers and staff members. I once had a pastor I worked for who would personally hand out our paycheck every two weeks. He always said, “Thank you for being a part of our team!” That encouragement meant so much to me. I would have done anything to help him fulfill our church’s vision!
Implementing these eight equipping principles will eventually lead to an atmosphere of consistent follow-through. Just remember that the best growth happens incrementally. Be sure to structure your ministry according to Ephesians 4:11-16. If you do, you will soon understand that leaders who equip are leaders who see follow-through.
I personally led a small church for twelve years, so I get it! I understand how difficult it can be to hand things off to folks that don’t follow-through. However, I will say that I also had some wonderful volunteers who eventually became great leaders in our church.
At the end of it all, it is important to simply note that gun shy leaders usually don’t make it. They often get discouraged or burnt out and eventually give up.