Flash back with me. It was 9:10 and the packed classroom of kids was still without their leader. Volunteers were asked to arrive at 8:40 and service began at 9:00, but still no sign of Brandon. As we shuffled classes and volunteers around to cover for him again, I was already planning the phone conversation I would have with him that afternoon.
“We missed you again this week. Is there anything we can do to help you remember your times to serve?”
“These kids need you to be here for them. It makes their morning stressful when they don’t know where their leader might be.”
“There seems to be a pattern of not showing up, so maybe we need to find another volunteer to lead the classroom.”
I didn’t get to have that phone conversation with Brandon because he did show up that morning … 25 minutes into the service. I found myself battling feelings ranging from defeat to frustration to down-right anger. Knowing that I should talk with him as soon as possible, I asked Brandon if we could talk after service.
We found a quiet spot in a side classroom, and I started into the conversation that had played in my head all morning. Then, I said something that I hadn’t rehearsed.
“Brandon, if you need to take a break from serving, that’s OK. Just tell me so that we can work it out together.”
It’s OK to Need a Break
I hadn’t rehearsed those words, but it was clear that the Holy Spirit had planned for me to say them. The words “take a break” were all Brandon needed to hear. It was like he had been waiting for that permission.
He immediately went into an explanation of how this past summer had included a pretty big job change for him, a move across town for his family, and the start of homeschooling their two children. He told me that he was trying his best because he didn’t want to let me down, but he just didn’t know that taking a break was an option.
With all that was going on, Brandon was struggling to keep his commitment to serve, but I completely understood when I heard his heart. The conversation that I thought would likely end in my firing a volunteer actually allowed me to care for and shepherd a family.
Brandon did take a break for the first semester that year. When things settled down for him and his wife, they both committed to serving in the second semester. That was over 5 years ago now, and they are both still faithfully serving with our kids’ ministry on Sundays.
Don’t Be Afraid
My conversation with Brandon, and with many other volunteers since then, has taught me the value of offering a break to volunteers. I know it sounds like a really bad idea. We worked so hard to recruit them, train them, and get them into the ministry, so what happens if they take a break and don’t come back?
While there is always that chance, I’ve found the opposite to be more often the case. When volunteers return from breaks, they return often more energized and committed than ever before.
If you’re still wondering whether or not it’s a good idea to give volunteers time off from serving, here are 5 reasons you should consider giving your volunteers a break, especially today. Breaks often help unlock excitement when they return.
Sometimes Their Life Situation Requires a Volunteer Break
As hard as it is for us to hear as ministry leaders, sometimes life just requires volunteers to take a break from serving. Between the time Brandon committed to serving and when we had our conversation, his life had drastically changed.
He was still passionate about serving and discipling kids, but life just wouldn’t slow down enough to let him do it with our ministry.
We need to acknowledge that there are seasons in the life of a volunteer that may just require them to take a break. Don’t assume a lack of passion, care, or maturity when they struggle to keep commitments.
Instead, be prepared to recognize the signs and offer them a break. Continue to connect with them throughout the break and remind them that there is a place for them to serve whenever they are ready to return.
A Break Shows That You Care for Them as a Person, Not Just a Volunteer
Whether a volunteer is new to your team or has been serving every Sunday for 30 years, they deserve to be known and loved by you. One of the best ways we can love volunteers is by serving them more than they serve us.
Your volunteers serve because they love kids (or other areas of ministry) and want to see the next generation love Jesus as much as they do. They forgo opportunities to attend Bible study with their peers or worship with their family to serve with you.
They don’t usually ask for much in the way of recognition or time off, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it.
Think of ways to schedule a week or multiple weeks into your ministry year that allows volunteers to take a break. To provide these breaks for volunteers, think about changing up your schedule or format for the week. It might mean using a large group format instead of small groups for a week so that you can provide the breaks for volunteers.
Let volunteers know that you love them enough to make time for them to worship with their family. Give them space to attend a special event, Bible study, or just to relax and know they are cared for and appreciated by you!
Granting Breaks to Volunteers Provides Opportunities for Someone Else to Serve
In kids’ ministry, we celebrate faithfulness! We all love those volunteers who are willing to serve every week for as long as you need them. There is a comfort that comes from knowing you have team members with that type of attitude.
It’s hard to imagine what the ministry would be like without them!
This is why I would say the biggest challenge to giving your volunteers breaks is the fear of not having someone to fill their shoes. This fear is understandable, but we’re the ones who teach kids not to let big fears overshadow our bigger God!
Trust God to raise up leaders to fill the needs of your ministry. When you give a volunteer time to take a break, ask a substitute or helper in the class to step into a leadership role. Let them know that this is a short-term opportunity to use their gifts to serve God through teaching kids.
Giving that volunteer a break may just lead you to discover a new leader who will commit to long-term ministry.
In our elementary ministry, we provide breaks for volunteers during the summer months. We make intentional calls to parents and ask them to serve for a few weeks over of the summer. This gives our volunteers a much-deserved break, and it allows parents the opportunity to serve without a long-term commitment.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a parent commit to a regular role of serving kids after filling in for another volunteer.
Breaks Allow Volunteers to Refresh, Recharge, and Reengage
We all want volunteers to lead and teach kids out of the overflow of what God is teaching them, but there are times when our volunteers need a break because they’re simply running on empty. Their personal faith formation is important.
This is a path to burnout.
As the ones called to shepherd these volunteers, we need to communicate the importance of the rest that God commands. Ask volunteers what they are doing to stay connected to God through worship and His Word.
Offer prayer groups or Bible studies to encourage volunteers in their walk with Jesus.
When you find a volunteer pouring into children week after week without anyone pouring into them, grant them the opportunity to take a break from serving while staying connected to all the other benefits of the ministry. Partner with them in this season to make sure that they get the care and support needed to reengage later.
These investments will not only make them better leaders but better followers of Jesus.
Giving Breaks Helps You Recruit and Retain More Volunteers
I once worked with a man named Chad. Chad was such an encourager, and everyone loved him! If someone mentioned Chad’s name in a conversation, there would always be at least one other person who would comment about how much they loved him.
Pretty soon, the people who didn’t know Chad felt like they were missing out and wanted to meet this guy!
We all want people to talk about our ministries like people talked about Chad! Making room to give volunteers a break shows how much you love them. Volunteers who feel known and loved make the best recruiters of new volunteers.
Invest in your volunteers by giving them time away. In the long run, that love will generate a buzz about the ministry that attracts new volunteers!
Great volunteers are essential to a great ministry. We couldn’t do what we do without those who give their time and energy to serve. We know how much we need them, but do we realize how much they need from us?
Take some time to think of how you can offer volunteers a break. Show them love and appreciation for what they do by giving them time to step away from doing it. Always remind them that you will have a place for them to serve when they are ready to return!
Breaks Offer a Refresh
Even in this season of COVID-19, don’t be afraid to offer your volunteers a break. They actually might need one now more than ever. As you continue being creative in your ministry, this can give you a chance to reach out to different people. Their strengths may inspire new ideas you might implement.