By Susan Lawrence
Change affects people differently. Some people thrive and others struggle. Change excites some and paralyzes others. But ministry and service are not about us or our comfort level. If we’re volunteering to serve and honor God, we need to yield to him. When we yield, we grow. When we grow, we change, and that change includes our service.
But when should we change, and how can we change in healthy ways? What questions do we need to ask?
WHY ARE YOU SERVING?
Ask yourself . . .
• What is the purpose of the ministry I’m serving, and are my gifts and passions a good fit?
Perhaps you got involved because a ministry sounded interesting, but as you discovered more, you felt like you didn’t fit. It’s OK to move on when your gifts and passions aren’t a good match for a specific ministry. Just be sure you aren’t just running away from something, but that you are moving toward something else.
• Why did I choose to get involved, and how has my life and ministry changed since then?
If you’re doing what you’ve always done because you’re not sure what else you’ll do or who will take your place, it’s time to move on. Being stuck in a rut is never a good reason to stay involved in something. Take a break to renew your perspective and commitment. Ministries change, and what was once a good fit might no longer be. Your life changes, and what once worked well might no longer work at all.
• Am I contributing to the ministry?
Take a step back and consider a broader perspective. If people seem uneasy anytime you’re involved, you need to explore why. If you don’t consistently fulfill your responsibilities, it might be time to take a break.
However, be careful how you define “contributing well.” You don’t have to be in charge to contribute. Cleaning toys, greeting people, and pouring coffee are important acts of service. Don’t minimize what you do because you think it’s insignificant, but serve to the best of your ability in order to honor God.
• Am I involved for the right reasons?
Do you want to pad your résumé or show you can do a better job than the person before you? Do you have a personal agenda? Do you want to carry the tradition of someone you respect even though it’s not a good fit? Keep your motives in check.
If you serve with poor motivations, not only will you personally suffer, but it’s likely the ministry and others involved in it will also suffer. Change for the right reasons—to use the gifts God has given you, to walk alongside others with encouragement, to abundantly and sacrificially give, and to follow God’s leading.
WHEN IS CHANGE NOT THE BEST CHOICE?
• When it’s selfishly motivated.
If you want to change because something will be easier, you’ll get more recognition or less responsibility, you’re bored, or you want to be involved in any and every new opportunity—if your reason is more me-centered than God-prompted—you need to slam on the brakes. Choosing your own way won’t end well. God can use anything you offer him, but your offering requires humility.
If you find yourself constantly explaining yourself, take caution. Of course, change is often accompanied by a need for explanations, yet there is a big difference between explanations for understanding and explanations as rationalizations. God-guided change doesn’t require excuses.
• When it isolates others.
If relationships suffer, proceed with caution. Be assured, change will require people to wrestle through tough moments in their relationships. It’s OK for relationships to struggle in the short term as long as people are respected. Not everyone will be happy through change, and sometimes people will choose to walk away and isolate themselves. However, be sure you do everything you can to honor others. Relationships are essential to God.
HOW CAN YOU ENCOURAGE CHANGE?
• Start conversations.
As a volunteer, share your questions and concerns. Meet with a leader or mentor and ask if your reasons for change seem well founded. Even if you currently have no inclination toward change, ask someone you trust how he or she sees you fitting into ministry now and in the future.
As a leader of volunteers, invite ongoing conversations. Transitional conversations are easiest when you’re consistently fostering healthy communication and asking people to consider transitions. It can be as simple as meeting with each volunteer once a year and asking for feedback. Listen for clues of burnout, bursts of growth, and questions about other service opportunities. If it’s unreasonable to meet with everyone personally, ask discussion or reflection questions during occasional meetings to encourage everyone to consider personal and ministry change. For example,
• What’s one way you’re now serving that you couldn’t imagine doing a year or two ago?
• What possibilities excite you for serving in the future?
• What’s one thing you haven’t gotten to do that challenges or excites you in ministry?
• What service need are you waffling about that you think God wants you to overcome?
• Boldly Follow God.
Many of us don’t boldly follow God—we may even follow him with timidity. Many follow God only when it’s convenient and comfortable, which really isn’t following God at all. As a volunteer, boldly following God requires you to say yes to God’s yes and no to God’s no. That means you’ll leave a gap every now and then. It’s not your responsibility to fill every volunteer role in the church. It’s your responsibility to do God’s work well. That means passing the baton well, which requires actually letting go.
If you continue in a role God no longer intends for you, you’re being disobedient. Even worse, you’re taking the place of the person who is supposed to be serving. The space you leave might remain unfilled for a while. Things might go undone. It’s not the end of the world. Obedience is more important than completing a to-do list.
As a leader of volunteers, you must boldly follow God as you lead others. Telling someone to do what you aren’t willing to do is always counterproductive. Boldly following God will often fall outside your comfort zone, because it will require some difficult conversations. You’re not responsible for everyone’s personal obedience, but as a leader, you need to hold people accountable and prune the ministry, including volunteers who are unhealthy or unhelpful. You need to help them meet challenges to grow and serve how, when, and where God is leading them.
Confrontation can be daunting, but it’s essential. Speak the truth in love. Honor God by honoring the relationships and people in your care. Growth requires effort and sacrifice.
• Be Willing to Learn.
As a volunteer, be willing to learn new things. When a ministry changes, don’t automatically step aside because of personal discontentedness or discomfort. Working through the change, especially alongside others, might be God’s way of preparing you to serve and follow him with renewed commitment.
As you hear whispers of upcoming ministry change, get involved and stay engaged. Help identify and solve problems instead of causing them. Step up and take ownership instead of standing back and assigning blame. Refuse to settle for hearsay; seek truth instead. Make the change more about the relationships you can foster than the issues you can confront.
As a leader of volunteers, you can help or hurt the change process. Being a leader doesn’t mean you will always be right. Admit when you make mistakes. Say you’re sorry when you didn’t equip a volunteer well. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open, or you’ll soon become nearsighted, seeing the ministry through your limited perspective, motives, and goals.
Realize volunteers aren’t the only ones who need to change. You do, too. Lead the ministry well by leading through change well. Regularly consider what needs to stay the same and what needs to change in order to fulfill the mission God has given you. Stay strong through criticisms as you remain true to God’s instructions.
Is it time to change? If so, do it well.
Susan Lawrence is a national speaker and author of Pure Purpose, Pure Emotion, Pure Growth, and Pure Faith Bible studies. She blogs at purepurpose.org. She has coordinated women’s ministries, small groups ministry, and Christian education at Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church.