I was recently at a children’s ministry conference attending a breakout session about volunteers and how some volunteers can be “toxic” and then someone mentioned me. Well, not by name, but by description and the person leading the breakout session agreed and said that I, they, were your worst volunteer nightmare. Who were they talking about? The former children’s pastor who comes to you and says they are willing to help and yes, that is me! I have served as an Awana commander in 2-1/2 different churches and I was also on staff as a children & youth pastor, and now, I am serving as a volunteer at another church.
I sat there during the breakout with a smirk on my face not saying anything, because I agreed, they could be toxic depending on how they approached their new role. At dinner that evening, I was sitting near the leader of the breakout session and mentioned that they were talking about me during the breakout, calling me a volunteer nightmare. I shared my story and we had a great conversation.
The reason why a former children’s pastor can be your worst volunteer nightmare is because they can come in with their expertise and share how everything you are doing is wrong and continually offer suggestions for improvement. When my season of ministry was over at the church where I was serving, I ultimately ended up in a volunteer position in a local church. I knew the potential pitfalls of once having the decision-making power to serving under another with that power.
Before I began attending the church, I told another Awana commander that if I started attending their church, that they would need to find a place for me to serve. I was willing to serve anywhere, and God had just opened a position for me. When I began to attend, I approached the leaders in children’s ministry and said I was willing to serve. At that time, the 4th grade teachers were about to step down. God was opening doors for me to serve and I was that “toxic former children’s pastor” eager to serve in a new church. I’m not writing to demonize former children’s pastors, but rather to share how I approached this transition, would I be “toxic” or not?
On Sunday mornings, I was given free reign to teach whatever I wanted if I chose not to use the curriculum that they were using at the time. I could have easily tapped into my vast resources of lessons and did well, going off on my own, but instead, I opted to use the curriculum they were using which was new to me. Why did I do that? Because I knew as a leader the importance of unity and if I ever was placed in a leadership role again, I did not want people to be able to say, “but you did what you wanted, why can’t I”?
My Awana Commanders are able to enter my group at any time and I do my best to honor what they want done in the club (okay, I’m not perfect). Are there times when I think that I would do things differently than the commanders or children’s ministry director? Yes, but it doesn’t mean that “my way” is better, just different, and I follow their lead. Ultimately we all have the same goal, to reach kids for Christ. I try to be the volunteer that I would want if I was in leadership again.
As you look for volunteers this summer, what you should look for in an individual?
- Faithfulness – someone committed to the ministry and will be there every week
- Flexibility – able to adapt to whatever may happen (See the Gumby Principle)
- A Team Player – they don’t have their own agenda
- They care about kids
- Positive – negative people are harmful to ministry. Negative people kept the Israelites from entering the Promised land
- They have integrity and are growing in the Lord
As you look for volunteers this summer to staff VBS, and next fall, seek out people with these characteristics. You want to avoid the “toxic” volunteer.
Am I the perfect volunteer? No. No one is perfect. As to whether I am the “worst volunteer nightmare” or not, you’ll need to ask the commanders and children’s ministry director I serve with to find out.