WANTED: REAL MEN. So, Are You Recruiting Men to Join “the Help” or to Become One of the “300”?

7913528_f496First of all, this is not a post downplaying the importance of women serving in ministry. The truth of the matter is that without all the women that serve faithfully, our churches would have a hard time existing. Women have been playing a vital role in ministry since the time of Jesus. This post is about the fact that many churches have a difficult time getting men to step up to the plate. We often blame men for being slack, unwilling to serve or even un-spiritual. However, I think the reasons men don’t volunteer has more to do with the way we recruit them than the men themselves.

Given the condition and reputation of business these days, I’m not sure why this is still happening. In recent decades, church leaders have stood before a constant parade of books, articles, seminars, conferences, and other resources designed to help them learn how to do church better by emulating businesses and business leaders. Some of these companies and their leaders are worthy of admiration; some might even serve as examples in one way or another. Still others manage their lives and businesses in ways that directly contradict what Jesus taught. Yet many pastors and other church leaders feel obligated and enthusiastic to learn from all of them–and in many cases, try to be more like them. So leaders model churches after businesses, lead them like executives, hire large staffs, plant franchises, create five-year strategic plans, copy others’ “success,” produce, market, brand.

And then they say things like “How can we get more volunteers to come alongside us and help pursue our vision?”

I’m an idealist by nature, so ironically, I walk at the edge of cynicism most of the time. But I can’t be the only one who hears such words and suspects they really mean, “How can I get more free labor to implement my great ideas?” I certainly would interpret them that way if they came from the mouth of any business executive. It’s ironic: churches behave like businesses but act surprised when the people in their congregations behave like consumers.

CL_men_dont_volunteer_416224291Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against being organized. I’m not against plans. Anyone who knows me would laugh at that idea; I can’t go 10 minutes without organizing something. And if I had something against business, I wouldn’t attended Wharton Business School or would have been a Finance department manager for a international IT firm. As I consider my experience and education in business to be one of my greatest assets to my job at a Church. In my opinion, if a church is being more efficient and productive with limited resources (in most cases) then most people I know would translate that into being faithful with God given resources. Strategy and planning should never be absent when dealing with an organization, and to say that in doing so you have completed missed the mission and vision of Jesus, you are wrong.

Imagine if Jesus had pursued a business degree instead of a path of serving and loving the needy and broken. What a different Gospel we’d have! Yet, this is exactly the “gospel” preached so often today: my plan, my vision, my way, my success. Instead, Christ’s way was the way of the cross.

Our responsibility as leaders is both the how (strategy, efficiency, resources) and the why (Jesus, and people meeting Jesus). As soon as you lose one of the two, you and your organization is lost. In Business it’s more tangible. Bankruptcy. In churches your biggest resource is your people. Jesus built His Church on the backs of His disciples and Peters proclamation that He is the Messiah. Church leaders cannot expect to build their church without having others join in their mission. Overlooking that piece, grabbing at some black and white response of programs, strategy and org charts disconnects any organization from that very asset. The people!

But there’s a difference between organizing and institutionalizing. Between making plans and packaging them. Between building a loving community and surrounding yourself with “the best.” And it makes no sense to establish a business and expect either your employees or your customers to pitch in like they’re at a family reunion. Here’s one of the problems with patterning churches after businesses: Good businesses are not very good at caring for people. The more efficient, productive, and streamlined your processes, the more cold, uncaring, and unwavering you will be when presented with opportunities to deviate from plan and love your neighbors, grieve over tragedy, and celebrate joy. The more thorough your strategic plan, the more deaf you’ll be to the voice of the Spirit. The stronger your brand, the weaker your sense of true community. And the more packaged product you offer, the more likely you are to attract window shoppers and people looking for clearance sales.

When businesses want to motivate people to action, they either pay them well (employees) or spend a lot of money on marketing (customers). Most churches who act like businesses don’t do a good job of either–so it shouldn’t surprise them when people aren’t motivated to get involved. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking volunteerism. I volunteer in my church, as I have for most of my life. But it’s not institutional vision that motivates me to do so. In my worst moments, I’m motivated by a sense of duty {it’s the soldier in me}. I give of myself exactly the way Paul told the Corinthian church not to give: “reluctantly or in response to pressure” (2 Corinthians 9:7 ). And in my finer moments, I am motivated by love for Christ and for people.

If you want to motivate people to genuine service, engage in genuine service. Find out what is stirring in people’s hearts and help them get together to do something about it. Reach out to the uninvolved and find out why they believe they have no place in the church’s mission. Assure them that they do–even if their skills and abilities wouldn’t qualify them for a job at any Fortune 500 business.

Jesus did not come to earth to establish a social institution–although a social institution is one way to express the church. He didn’t come to make us cooler, more successful, more efficient, or popular. He came to draw all people to God–and to be the pathway that will take us there. Following that pathway, and calling to others to join us, is possibly the most organic process imaginable. The church is not a business–it’s the church. It’s unique. Perhaps it doesn’t really make sense to pattern ourselves after anything. If you think the church best fulfills its mission when it’s efficient, productive, and well-branded, by all means call yourself a CEO. But don’t expect volunteers–or disciples–(especially men) to line up to help you achieve your business strategy.

I’ve seen far too many volunteer recruiting campaigns go something like this: Someone stands in front of the congregation and talks about how much they need people to serve. The bulletin lists all of the positions needing to be filled. The pastor threatens to shut down the two-year-old class if they don’t get enough workers. They dumb down the responsibilities and make it clear that anyone in the pew with a pulse is capable of helping out. Heck, I’ve seen churches dress the staff in crazy outfits to attract adults to serve. Throw in a little guilt, a splash of desperation, a gimmick or two and … Voila! … you’ve just created the romantic comedy of volunteer recruiting campaigns.gideon_story__image_8_sjpg997

Men typically don’t respond when they are asked to join The Help. Sure, some men will do it … they may even enjoy it … but the majority of them won’t even give it a shot. Men are attracted when they are challenged to give their lives to be one of the 300. Instead of recruiting to a need … call men to action. Instead of inviting them to fill a spot … inspire them to leave a legacy. Instead of asking for less commitment … cast a vision for something beyond the moment and bigger then themselves.  This what the movie “300” Taught Me (and the Church Should Have) about Men! Just as with Abraham, Joshua, David & Gideon; God can use a small unit of men to defeat, bring down, and conquer over a mighty army.

If you want to recruit more men to volunteer at your church … think action movie; not drama or romantic comedy. So, are you recruiting men to join The Help or to become one of the 300? The answer is probably found in the number of men volunteering at your church.

Photo(s) /Resource(s): Eric Echols & Amy Simpson

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