Top Tips for leading a team of volunteers

In many churches, if you’re involved in leading a ministry reaching internationals, you’ll be leading a team of volunteers.  What can we do to ensure we’re leading our teams well?

  • Thank your team often!  Make the effort to offer specific and individual thanks as well as to the whole team.  People need to know that they’re appreciated, and this is especially the case when they are making the time to volunteer.  Thank people in various ways, whether through a card, presents, face-to-face, an email, publicly, privately…
  • Develop a servant heart.  It’s all too easy to delegate all the jobs that you don’t like – this is fine if others actually relish those jobs but there are some jobs that no one likes.  Be prepared to lead by example and take the rubbish out!  Serve your team as much as possible, looking for ways to help any team members that might be overloaded or weary.
  • Know your team and invest in them.  This will mean spending time with the individual members, listening to them, understanding any concerns they have and observing them to see what gifts God has given them so that they can be used accordingly.  Meeting outside of your regular context occasionally is a good idea.
  • Assign roles.  It’s important to work hard at prayerfully placing the right people in the right roles and making sure that they are happy with the task assigned to them and the expectations that go with it.  Aim to review this periodically with team members to check that they are still happy. Assigning roles is vital for people to feel that they own the work and can commit to it.
  • Give constructive feedback.  If we are concerned to see people grow in their roles, we will want to gently give feedback.  However, this needs to be constructive and not crushing!  Aim to say something very positive first, and after you’ve pointed out the area for development, end with something affirming again.
  • Take the long view.  It’s important to plan for your retirement!  You may have no plans to move on just yet but inevitably the day will come and it’s vital to be training others who can take over the leadership of the ministry.
  • Communicate well.  Meeting often as a team is key to this, making sure that the vision is clear so that everyone knows what the collective aim is. These times also give space for the team to air struggles, concerns or hopes.  Good communication will also mean speaking with the members individually.
  • Pray.  This is an obvious one but in the busyness of activity it is easily neglected or squeezed out.  Pray for the members of the team and pray with them regularly for the work you’re involved in.
  • Take risks.  Good leadership involves good delegation where you entrust certain things to individuals.  This allows team members to explore gifts and grow.  This does also mean that you need to be prepared to step in and take the initiative in sorting it out if things go wrong! Give support as appropriate, pairing a less-confident member with a more experienced member where need be.
  • Ask your team for their observations on how things are running.  They will often have a different perspective from you and will notice things that you don’t.  Be prepared to ask them how you could improve as a leader too! (It might be worth preparing yourself beforehand not to be overly sensitive!)
  • Foster unity by talking well of your team members and modelling Christ-like speech.  Sometimes people let you down, sometimes people criticise harshly and in these situations it can be so tempting to speak ill of them to another team member.  Pray for God to help you model godly speech. This is important if the team is to be united.
  • Resolve conflict.  Work hard at resolving conflicts that will inevitably arise.  As the leader, set a good example by being quick to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and by saying sorry whenever you need to.
  • Encourage!  Show that you notice the wonderful things your volunteers are doing for God’s glory.  This should be true in the everyday running of language classes or a café, but especially where you see someone doing something for the first time, or where someone has gone out of their comfort zone.
  • And finally accept the limitations of your team members.  It’s helpful to remember that the work of your team is only one aspect of their busy lives and they may not have as much time or energy to devote to the work as you would like in an ideal world.