“Volunteers” versus “Ministry partners”

Topic / Volunteers

Volunteers versus Ministry PartnersBill Allison of Cadre Ministries really does an awesome job with all the materials he generates for training and equipping volunteers for ministry. I learn a lot from him and the materials he gives away on his site and really respect his wisdom. (Now if I could only recruit him to work for my youth group…)

In a recent email discussion between us, he pointed me to one of his previous e-newsletters titled, “I don’t like volunteers.” His premise is that the term “volunteers” connotes “second best” or “not really that important” in comparison with paid staff. The example he uses is the difference between a used car and a pre-owned car. Both mean the same thing, but the connotations are different. So, Bill suggests using the term “ministry partners” instead of “volunteers,” stemming from the biblical principle that all believers are called to be full-time ministers, just that most just don’t actually get paid for it.

But I guess the term “volunteers” doesn’t really have any negative connotations in my mind, whereas “partners” makes me think of a business agreement. In that respect, my perspective is almost the opposite of Bill’s, but I’m not too confident in my opinion while I have tremendous respect for Bill’s opinion. What do the rest of you think? Read Bill’s brief article and then check out this pastor’s response to Bill’s recommendation. Post your opinion in the comments here. The difficulty is that it’s important to have balanced input from both “ministry partners” and paid staff, but I think most of my readers are paid staff. Sparking the discussion is better than nothing, though.

Also, take a second to place your vote in this poll:


Posted on September 12, 2007

  • Allison is a loser… and you should have much more respect for you opinion. Besides, maybe he’s just trying to get us to look beyond terminology–and think through our own hearts to see if we are REALLY communicating to our volunteers how much we value them–AND that they reallly are youth ministers–who happen to not get paid for their ministry to youth.

    Thanks for having the guts to float this out to those who read your blog Tim… I hope the discussion on this blog is as rich as it is on the other posts!

    Just trying to break the ice on this discussion… create just a little tension and maybe have a little fun too.

  • Tim

    Yeah, my heart is the same as your’s, Bill: I want volunteers to feel valued and appreciated, knowing that their work is just as important, often even more important, than my work. If changing the terminology will help that, then I wanna do it ASAP. I plan to ask a couple of my volunteers what they feel, too.

  • Joy

    I have 2 types of people who help with the youth ministry but aren’t paid. I have the ones who sign up to help with a specific event. I usually call them “chaperones” or “drivers” or “adults” or “volunteers” or whatever seems appropriate at the time. Then i have my husband and one other guy who help out every week and come to all the events. On the paperwork i call them assistant youth leaders, but usually i just call them youth leaders.

  • Paul

    As a non-paid church worker I can tell you that I am not particularly concerned about the names part of this discussion. My concern is that everyone involved in doing the Lord’s work in the local church feels, and is, appreciated. Both those on the payroll and those who are not. In that respect I think this is a very timely discussion.

  • We call ours staff. All of our leaders are considered staff and can always voice their opinion or make their input known.

  • I also have been going through this name dynamic as well…in the past…I also like Chris called the “volunteers” in our youth ministry one of two things…staff or leaders…never volunteers.

    In beginning a church I have been thinking about this in terms of members vs. partners.

    I feel partners is a term that is more inclusive to ownership. It is more of people joining the cause or purpose and making it their own.

    My vote in the volunteer vs partner goes down to partner…but I would probably call them staff.

  • Gary

    I prefer to use the concept of Ministry Teams. This has the built in emphasis on ministry or service and the emphasis on everyone is part of the same team. We’ve also used the description Ministry Team Leader without any negative feedback from our Ministry Teams.

  • Becca

    I am not a paid youth worker, I volunteer my time as many do. I do feel that when the term volunteers is used it is not only the volunteer who sees their role as minimal, but also there are times when paid staff tend to minimize the role of the volunteer.

    Having been involved with the church on almost every level, I have witnessed this more often than not. Many times a paid staff member will work with the perception that they are involved in an individual ministry without a team to assist them. It does seem that titles have a large role in how people define the responsibilities of other people as well as how they define their own responsibilities.

  • G'ma B

    Volunteers are different people, but when challenged and appointed by God.. they can't be beat. I've been a hospital volunteer since 1965.. and our volunteers are indispensable.. with great compensation. (not money!) Of course, that is second to my volunteering for the church for more years than that.. When God is providing , it is so great to be able to volunteer !!
    I've NEVER seen my volunteering as minimal.
    GG'ma B

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