hmmm: what Aretha sings

Yes, that song.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.

The church has a respect problem when it comes to asking people for time and talent contributions.  In other words, the church has a problem respecting the above-and-beyond work and family efforts of her people, and there’s no 12-step program to help.  Every church and ministry I’ve ever been involved with, and a great number I’m quite familiar with, suffers from this problem.

What does it look like?

Being unprepared for meetings with volunteers, making it difficult for them to do what you asked them to do.  Expecting work for free for the church/ministry when the person you’re asking makes his/her living doing that work.  Dragging your feet on a project and/or making it impossible to do the project well, saying things like “no rush” (possibly deluding yourself that you’re working with the volunteer’s schedule, when you’re actually wasting his/her time and drive to be excellent at what you’ve asked).

Now, to be fair, there are volunteers who are unprepared; there are volunteers who initiate the offer to do valuable work for free (and even spend assets to make it happen); there are volunteers who drag their feet and bring lots of excuses to the table.  As a leader, would you be satisfied with that?  I’m guessing, unless you have a very view of volunteers (sounding something like “they’re the only help I’ve got/can afford, I’ll have to make do”), that this is not what you’re looking for in people resources and talent offerings.  Then why, oh why is it acceptable in leaders?

How to get your R-E-S-P-E-C-T back.

  • Get rid of the spirit of poverty.  God has placed every person, gift and talent your ministry needs to grow the Kindgom within reach.  If you are lacking, it’s because you’re not looking; you’re not empowering; you’re not raising up the standards and seeking excellence.
  • Take the time to plan and prepare, in advance.  Once a leader has identified a volunteer’s talent and asked him/her to contribute it to a particular ministry, show respect to that gift by giving clear direction, bringing the necessary information to the table to ensure the volunteer has all that’s needed to see the role to successful completion in an appropriate amount of time.
  • Remember that volunteer time (all non-staff-person work at a church!) is above and beyond personal discipleship, family time, and professional responsibilities.  Those are built-in realities, not excuses, so it’s incredibly poor form to a leader to complain about being over-worked/over-taxed on time because of working with volunteers on a project or ministry team.
  • Give projects clear expectations and direction which apply to all members of the project/ministry team.  Set the example of being on-time, prepared to give clear direction, run concise meetings when needed, watch for signs of strain on your people (are the same dozen people involved in everything?) and take steps to alleviate it (what are the abilities/gifts of the people not involved in anything?)

This idea goes hand-in-hand with a general cultural disregard for respect, which plays out in the ways we exploit and make fun of individual’s difficulties and struggles and call it humor.  So commonplace, this dynamic, that people actually line-up for the honor of being exploited and made a mockery (the first half of every season of American Idol, anyone?).

A little respect, sockittomesockittomesockittome…

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4 Responses to “hmmm: what Aretha sings”

  1. Tom
    September 3, 2008 at 12:54 pm #

    WOW……….what excellent insight. I will try and use this in my profession and my “volunteer” endeavors.

  2. adam mclane
    September 3, 2008 at 9:49 pm #

    I think this is exactly the reason why so many talents in church go underutilized. It’s one thing to volunteer a skill, it’s another to have you time wasted by unprofessional clergy/pseudo-clergy.

    This is equally annoying to college students complaining about being “too busy” to do homework or begging for an extension.

    Respect = being prepared. Who would have thought?

  3. patti
    September 4, 2008 at 9:52 am #

    Respecting people to whom you delegate responsibilities can = being prepared, but I think it’s more than that. There are a number of other elements that if “left out” would also indicate a lack of respect.

    Lack of respect of a person’s gift of ability (no matter whether you’re paying them or not) can be expressed via details like attentiveness, trust, and even simply giving appropriate access to people to ensure the success of the task (be it an on-going ministry or a one-time project). On an organizational level, that can even look like under-resourcing financially, in addition to under-leading.

    There is so much talk in ministry circles about making effective use of resources. It just seems to me that the church wastes a lot in the area of human resources by emphasizing the wrong side of the equation. If the church is going to be healthy and grow, it needs to be communicating the value of each person’s contribution of ideas and abilities, crafting the community’s vision for their work around who is there and what they bring to the table. No one should feel shut out of that (barring some serious issue of church discipline, which even then would be only for a time while repentance and restoration is sought). To shut people out of contributing (and disrespect is a fantastic way to make people feel like they have no big picture importance) is to close out some gift that God has placed in your ministry’s arsenal to put to work in changing the world.

    IMO, that’s a sin, because it stunts the growth of the believer and keeps people from sharing the truth. A wise pastor I once served with brought it down to this proverb: “Shepherds don’t beget sheep. Sheep beget sheep.”

    The sheep (people) can’t live into their purpose of bring more sheep into the flock if they are led to believe that their contributions of time, skills, energy aren’t a valued part of the church’s purpose.

  4. adam mclane
    September 4, 2008 at 10:10 am #

    The flip side is that not all ministries mismanage the talent/gifts of their congregants. Certainly a lot do… but the best seem to allow their people the freedom to express their gifts/talents for their overall mission.

    I think your old pastor was absolutely right. A ministry can’t be a reproducing one unless it is based on love and respect for one another.

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