Back in college, my favorite Peanuts poster was the one that quotes Lucy: “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”
Sometimes it is easier to love volunteers in general than to love individual volunteers. There must have been days when it was easier for Jesus to think of giving His life for all of humanity than to be nose to nose with smelly, obstinate fishermen and tax collectors.
But what if you really do love them? Do they know it?
Experts in organizational leadership identify leaders in two different camps: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. I should be the poster child for the task-oriented types. I’m not that way all the time — and no one is 100% either one anyway. Still, I need to take time more often to stop and enjoy the volunteers for the roses they are. (Do not insert the mental note of “thorns and all” here!)
More than thoughts
I think that the volunteers in our ministry are a GREAT group of people who inspire me by their time commitment and love for the Lord. But if it doesn’t get beyond my thoughts, it doesn’t help. Volunteers are not mind readers. They are behavior readers.
At one point, I thought that I was helping our people to become more effective. I was working with people, though, who were wise enough (and loving enough) to tell me that I was coming across as critical and disapproving.
I’ll bet that we can all reach back in our memory to examples of leaders who have created negative vibes when they first came to a church. Leaders may have a lot of experience, be highly trained, and know a lot about their field. They may be able to quote 1 Corinthians 13 in their sleep. And yet, we can still fail to let church volunteers know that they are loved.
Lately, I have been having a lot of fun enjoying our volunteers. How did that happen? I didn’t have to cook up ways to make them feel special. I’m not flattering them with untrue praise. I’m not overlooking their flaws.
I probably changed several things, but I know I made these changes:
1. I quit thinking, “They are doing a great job, except…..” I dropped the “except” and enjoyed the great job for a while!
2. I quit dwelling on the things we needed to change. Yes, we can improve, but the negatives tended to spill out in my facial expressions and tone of voice before I could catch them. I have to think about changes at a separate time.
3. I talked with my team about what motivated them. Literally, we had an evening when I asked them about what church was like (or not like) when they were kids. I was amazed! I have a whole new appreciation for these people.
It’s easy for Christians to say that we love one another. We are supposed to. (And we know that we have to work hard to love people that we don’t even like.) I’m giving and getting a lot more smiles, though, since I refocused on Philippians 4:8:
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (NLT).
In fact, I am finding that I don’t just love our volunteers — I am delighted with them.