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Are Your Volunteers Serving People? Or Your Programs?

Are Your Volunteers Serving People? Or Your Programs?

This is not another post knocking youth ministry programs. Knocking programs is like knocking oxygen. We need programs (no matter how big or small) to do ministry. Without some sort of an organized approach to doing ministry, we can slip into a haphazard and unplanned effort at building relationships and shepherding students in their faith. Which doesn't work for anyone.

So, I'm not attacking this nebulous concept of “programs.” I am, however, pointing the finger at a program-driven approach to doing discipleship. In specific, I'm pointing the finger at one of the unintended and often overlooked side-effects of a program centered ministry approach.

Here's a truth:

When we operate program-centric ministries, we simultaneously create the need for volunteers. The more programs on the calendar, the more volunteers we need to pull them off.

And here's the side-effect:

When we become a slave to program-centered, volunteer-driven discipleship, we can unintentionally create people who serve our programs at the cost of serving people.

That's a big statement. Let me unpack it a bit.

There are potentially countless numbers of adults in our ministries whose understanding of an active faith is driving vans, or stage design, or meal coordinating, or running-off fliers, or chaperoning events, and so on. Am I saying this is wrong? No, it's not wrong. Am I saying that this isn't Kingdom-oriented service? No. I'm not saying that. Am I saying that this isn't in-line with some people's personalities or giftings? Not saying that either.
But what I am saying is that for many, these type of program-supporting roles are the only way they ever really serve.

What's wrong with that, you ask?

  • What if they never hand a meal to someone in another community, city, or country for whom it may be the first or only meal of the day, or . . .

  • What if they never personally lead another person to faith in Christ, or . . .

  • What if they never give medicine to the sick in the name of Christ, or . . .

  • What if they never build a meaningful relationship with a student, or a neighbor . . .

. . . all because they see their work supporting the various programs at our churches as satisfying their call to serve?

Listen, I realize I'm pushing this concept a bit here. But I'm doing it to make a point. I understand that people are served through programs. I also understand that volunteers have opportunities to serve outside of your ministry. However, it doesn't change the mindset behind this issue:

When our first response to any crisis or opportunity is to think in terms of a program as opposed to people, we may very well be perpetuating a system that creates volunteers who are quite removed from serving others through life-on-life interactions, and are instead serving as a cog in our ministry machine.  

What's the solution?

Part of it is changing our approach. A people-centered, discipleship approach is almost always superior to a program-centered one. Programs are tools, not solutions. If you have a crisis, think people first. If you have an opportunity, think people first. Ask, "How can I address this through life-on-life relationship"?

When we think "program first," we run the risk of becoming nothing more than a Christian event-planning company. And when we do this, we can unintentionally create a group of volunteers who believe that serving your church's multiple programs is fulfilling Christ's call to serve people.

And I'm not saying that serving your programs isn't the same as serving people. All I'm saying is that it might not be.

About The Author

Andy Blanks

Andy Blanks

Andy Blanks is the Publisher and Co-Founder of YM360 and Iron Hill Press. A former Marine, Andy has spent the last 17 years working in youth ministry, mostly in the field of publishing. During that time, Andy has led the development of some of the most-used Bible study curriculum and discipleship resources in the country. He has authored numerous books, Bible studies, and articles, and regularly speaks at events and conferences, both for adults and teenagers. Andy and his wife, Brendt, were married in 2000. They have four children: three girls and one boy.