The red leather Bible on my bookshelf evokes twinges of regret. It belongs to Steve, a seminary student who volunteered on our youth ministry team nearly 15 years ago.
As a full-time intern, I was responsible for growing a ministry to a large suburban high school. I had recruited Steve and I admired his heart for God. Together, we decided he would focus on building relationships with the senior boys. Steve was older than most of our volunteers and loved basketball, so we thought he would have natural credibility.
Steve gave it his best shot. He showed up for athletic events, attended our programs, and joined in training sessions. By the middle of the year, however, I could tell his enthusiasm was waning. He showed that hangdog look of someone who feels defeated. He made less time for students. He skipped our end-of-year picnic.
Just before that, Steve had left his Bible in my car by mistake. Long after the picnic was over, I realized that I still hadn't connected with Steve to return his Bible and to thank him for his service. By that time, summer vacations were underway, Steve had finished seminary, and I had no way to find him. His Bible still sits on my bookshelf.
While he probably shared some responsibility, I have come to believe that I bear ownership for Steve's decline in morale. I simply didn't understand volunteers.
Today I still wrestle with the question of keeping volunteers happy and productive, even though I'm now a volunteer. I have the privilege of leading a ministry in our church that is almost entirely led, funded, trained, and staffed by volunteers. I have a deep appreciation for the unpaid workers in the Kingdom. I want to keep them motivated and connected. I am on a personal quest to discover what volunteers really want.
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