Are You Simply A Volunteer Or Are You Called To Ministry?

Photo by SJU Undergraduate Admissions

Photo by SJU Undergraduate Admissions

Volunteerism vs Calling

I’ve been involved as a leader in church ministry for the last 16+ years. I’ve had as many as 35-40 volunteers at any given time under my direct leadership during this 16 year period. Throw in the typical ministry churn that takes place in churches, and I would guess that I’ve seen 250-300 volunteers pass through my ministry alone.

As I’ve worked in the church world during this time, I can clearly see who shows up as a result of a spirit of volunteerism, and who serves because they feel the calling of the Lord to be a part of ministry. I’m not talking some crazy, mystical “God spoke to me in a dream after eating pizza last night” kind of experience, either.

Here’s what I have observed over the years:

  • Volunteers serve only when it is convenient. Called ministers serve during times of convenience as well as inconvenience.
  • Volunteers put in a “half-hearted” effort. Those called by God give their very best effort.
  • Volunteers want to quit at the first sign of a problem. Called ministers will dig in and persevere.
  • Volunteers can always find lots of reasons to complain and be unhappy. Those called of the Lord serve with a spirit of joy and thanksgiving.

In my own ministry, I was recently reminded of the importance of the call into ministry for those under my direct leadership.

3 Important Reminders For Our Call Into Ministry

  1. Each one of us has a calling into ministry. Being a part of a specific ministry is more than volunteering. Hopefully, we have not been begged or coerced into using our gifts and abilities for ministry. We’re either called by God or we’re not called, and that’s okay. If God does call us though, we need to be obedient to that call.
  2. We are simply “stewards” or managers of our calling. In other words, “our individual positions are not really our positions.” Here’s what I mean: God has placed you in a specific position at a specific time in your church’s history. Right now, you’re responsible to be the best manager of your specific calling until the Lord decides that calling needs to change. All of us need to lead well, today, and then we need to do an awesome job of handing off the baton to the next called person sometime in the future.
  3. The mission of the church or a specific ministry must always move forward. This should be the primary purpose behind our calling. God will see that His purposes are fulfilled whether or not we remain faithful in our calling. We may even be moved on by Him to a different mission. Always keep your focus on the overall mission of your church body as well as your specific ministry calling.

Questions: Have you been obedient to your own personal call into ministry? How well are you managing the position God has called you to right now? Are you focused on God’s mission for your life and ministry, or are you selfishly focused on your own agenda?

14 Practical Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Being An Orchestra Director

Photo by nasa hq photo

Photo by nasa hq photo

The Life And Leadership Of An Orchestra Director

I think everybody has a certain perception of symphony orchestra directors, especially the top-end professionals. People probably view them as suave, sophisticated, jet-setters who have a pretty cushy job (yeah, sure, that’s me!).

While that may be true for a small minority of the top professionals, in my experience, being an orchestra director has awesome rewards as well as very unique challenges. This is particularly true of those of us conductors who lead volunteer orchestras. The musicians in our orchestras can walk whenever they feel like it. As music directors, we either lead them well or they will bail on us, guaranteed.

Over the last 16 years of leading volunteer orchestras (as well as from being a trumpet player under a bunch of great and horrible conductors), I’ve learned several valuable leadership lessons that apply not only to directing orchestras but also really to leading any organization.

14 Leadership Lessons From Orchestra Conducting

  1. Clarify the mission and vision. Every group is energized by its own unique vision and mission. If your group is not clear on what their mission is, then the organization will break down over time. As the leader, be sure the mission is clear in your own mind, first. Then, find creative ways to communicate the team’s mission on a regular basis.
  2. Model the organization’s values. Let me give you an example here. One of the values that I regularly discuss with my orchestra is excellence. If I preach excellence each week with my orchestra, but then come into rehearsals and worship services unprepared to direct them, I am essentially a hypocrite. I need to practice what I preach. Whatever values your organization upholds, be sure that you model those values for your followers.
  3. Communicate clearly and consistently. As a conductor, I have to be extremely clear with my baton, hands, and verbal instructions in order to communicate exactly how I need my orchestra to perform. My personal leadership pet peeve is communication. There are a lot of bad communicators out there, that’s for sure. I believe all leaders need to be obsessed with the flow of clear communication between them and their followers. Without good, secure, clear lines of communication, the team will break down over time. Communicate a clear, consistent message through phone, email, social networks, text messaging, newsletters, and personal talks with your team.
  4. Set high expectations. “High expectations are the key to everything.” – Sam Walton. The groups you lead will rise (or fall) to the level of your expectations. Make sure you are crystal clear in the expectations you have for yourself as well as for those you lead. If your people believe in your leadership, then they will do whatever they can to rise to your desired level of expectation.
  5. Be prepared to lead. Anytime you’re out front leading your team in a meeting, a project, or any event, be sure you have your act together. Prepare heavily on the front end before meetings or events, so that things flow well on the back-end. Come prepared to lead your team in order for your team to be inspired to follow you.
  6. Focus your best energy on leading your leaders. The most effective leaders understand this key principle. Spend the majority of your time leading and developing your leaders. Your team will achieve more long-term when all the leaders are leading at their highest potential.
  7. Be respectful of your team. Gone are the days of the tyrant director on the podium. Stomping around and yelling at your followers just doesn’t fly anymore. They will stop following you. You must lead your team as a group of (mostly) equals. You just happen to be the one who has been placed in the position of leading the team.
  8. Prioritize the work flow. As you analyze the work projects that need to be accomplished, be sure that your team understands the priority assigned to each task. Have them focus the majority of their best time and energy into those tasks that are the highest priority.
  9. Prepare the work environment. Your team will have physical, tangible equipment needs at some level. Make sure your team has everything they need to do the work you are asking them to do. Have everything set-up in the right manner, ready to be put to its best use.
  10. Quality practice leads to excellent performance. Musicians understand this concept better than anyone. The better my practice time flows, the better my performance will go. Work hard for excellence in the private practice room, in order for your public performance to match that same level of excellence.
  11. Be an encourager. “A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.” – Kevin Bacon. Your group is going to climb higher, faster based on the amount of encouragement that you give them individually and corporately. I’m not talking fake encouragement, either. When you catch them doing awesome stuff (and you will), then give them a bunch of high-fives and pats on the back. Your followers will appreciate the sincere encouragement you give them.
  12. Praise publicly. Criticize privately. I’ve learned this leadership lesson the hard way, mostly in reverse, though! Here’s what I mean. Several years back, one of the leaders in my orchestra went on a critical rant during a rehearsal in front of the entire orchestra about something I did that he didn’t like. It really threw me off-balance the rest of the evening. The next day, I set-up a time to have lunch with this individual. When we met for lunch a few days later, I shared with him this principle. I simply and politely asked him that when he had a specific problem with my leadership, if we could meet privately to discuss the issue. I didn’t think our rehearsal time was the best time to “air our grievances.” Thankfully, we have never had another issue, since!
  13. Celebrate the victories. Honestly, I always struggle with this one. I’m the type of leader that has the tendency to move on to the next project as soon as possible. Take time to publicly “bask in the glory” of a job well done with your team.
  14. Quietly analyze the defeats. While victories should be celebrated publicly, your team’s defeats should be analyzed privately. Meet with the various leaders of your team to determine why you failed and how the failure can be corrected. Turn your team’s immediate failures into learning and growth opportunities for future wins.

Questions: Of these 14 leadership lessons, which ones do you personally embrace? Which ones are new concepts for you? What leadership lessons have you learned and developed in your specific career field? Feel free to leave a comment and share with this community.

7 Tips To Successfully Motivate Volunteers In Your Organization

Photo by Mark Brannan

Photo by Mark Brannan

Motivating Volunteers Is My Life’s Work

For the last sixteen years, my primary job role has been engaging a small, unique sub-set of volunteers – the volunteer church orchestra.

In my professional opinion, this particular position has a number of unique layers of challenging volunteer motivation. Not only do I have the incredible responsibility to motivate them to show up for rehearsals and worship services, but I also have the privilege of developing them, musically. I must take a group made up of mostly “weekend warrior” musicians and strategically motivate them to grow in their musical abilities.

So, over the last sixteen years, here is the “toolbox” I have developed, mostly through trial and error, to engage and motivate my volunteers to not only show up, but to also become better musicians.

7 Tips To Motivate Your Volunteers

  1. Get personal. If you develop a personal connection with your volunteers, then there is a greater likelihood that they will stay with your organization, long-term. You must know the names of your volunteers. Knowing the names of their spouses and kids is a major bonus and will endear you to your volunteers. Also, you need to “walk around the room.” There is something very special about a leader of any organization who arrives early and stays late just to connect with those he is leading.
  2. Mail them hand-written cards. You should regularly thank your volunteers via spoken word and email communication. This is a given. What will set you apart from others, though, is mailing them hand-written thank you, birthday, and anniversary cards. Why is this so effective? Because hardly anybody does it anymore; it’s too much work for a lot of people. Your volunteers will truly appreciate that you took additional time out of your busy schedule to provide that personal touch.
  3. Honor their time. You need to have a schedule and stick to it 99% of the time. If you ask your volunteers to be present at a specific time, then you need to start on time. If you give them an end time, then you need to end on time. Yes, there will be special circumstances when you may need to flex your start and end times, but make that a rare exception and not the rule. With our ever increasingly busy lives, people appreciate those who can stay on a firm schedule.
  4. Be prepared. Organize their work, whatever it is. You as the leader need to have your own “ducks in a row” as well. Your volunteers will greatly appreciate all of their work resources being organized and accessible as soon as they arrive to volunteer for you.
  5. Communicate the mission. Have you ever heard about the psychology study that included asking people to dig ditches, fill them back in, and ever-increasing monetary compensation for them showing back up the next day to do the exact same task? This supposed psychology study found that people who were hired to dig ditches for half a day and then directed to fill them back in the second half of the day, were less likely to return to work the next day, even if their pay was increased. Why is this? People need to know that their work matters and has some greater overall purpose. As you lead your volunteers, you must communicate the mission of your organization on a regular basis. Say it verbally. Write it down in your thank you cards. Place it prominently in your newsletters. The more your volunteers hear the mission and connect with it, the greater the likelihood that they will keep showing up to volunteer.
  6. Admit when you mess up. In my opinion, the worst leaders are the ones who can never admit they made a mistake. That’s plain dumb. We’re human beings and we all make mistakes. Your volunteers will appreciate you more if you just confess it and ask for forgiveness. Being stubborn about your failings will send your volunteers out the back door, over time.
  7. Celebrate! Every time your volunteer organization moves successfully through a project or special event, you should celebrate. Throw a little party of some type in order to pause, reflect, as well as say to your group, “Yea! We did it!” Too many times, we just blast on through to the next project and ask our people, “what have you done for me lately?” This is probably not the best way to retain your volunteers. Figure out creative, meaningful ways to celebrate your victories and at the same time show appreciation to your volunteers.

Questions: Are you a leader of a mostly volunteer organization? What do you think of these 7 specific tips? Which ones do you use to motivate your volunteers? Do you have any additional tips in your toolbox? Feel free to share your ideas with the community by leaving us a comment below.