Shared Ministry

building birdhouses

An adult volunteer working with the children on a Green Sanctuary project – an example of Shared Ministry!

The congregation I serve has been working on the concept of Shared Ministry and volunteering/lay leadership as a spiritual practice.  Essentially, the idea is that ministry is not something reserved for the professional and the ordained, but is something that we all can do – whenever we share our gifts with one another and the world we are engaged in ministry.

This is clearly true to me when I look at the wonderful volunteers who come in to make the religious education program possible – they are all ministering to our children and youth.  Through the time, skills, presence, and caring they give they are making a quality spiritual growth experience and a community of caring for our young people.  And how is this a spiritual practice for the volunteers themselves?  Through their volunteer work they get to know the kids, get to play games and sing songs and have fun with them, get challenged at times, and grow and deepen their own understanding of their faith.

But what about the young people themselves? Can they be part of the shared ministry of the congregation?  Yes!

We have organized Hospitality Teams for each age group, and each Sunday a different Hospitality Team takes a turn putting on the welcoming extras that make Sunday a nurturing experience for many: Greeting at the front door, bringing cookies for coffee hour, bringing a healthy snack for the classroom time, or bringing a parent to be a helper in a classroom.  To launch these teams, we put on Pancake Breakfasts and a member of the Shared Ministry Team came and talked to the kids about “why do we do stuff when we’re not getting paid for it?”

The kids thought of things they do not for pay but because they care and those things need to be done … and also because it’s fun to do them.  Volunteers have fun, or this system wouldn’t work.  And then they named their new team together and had a chance to sign up for a job.  I think this is going to be great this year, and I am so honored that my work means sharing ministry with people of all ages.

Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice



Our congregation’s leadership team is using this inspiring little (really little – short enough that everyone has time to read it) book as a group study guide.  Serving with Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom is written for the general lay leadership of Unitarian Universalist congregations, and he uses the term lay leadership very broadly.  This is a book for the Board, but also the program council, the committees, the RE teachers, the Ushers and Greeters, the Hospitality Hosts, and anyone else engaged in teh work of the congregation.  And then he suggests that the point is not the work, the budget, or attendance numbers, but is instead the possibility for personal and communal spiritual growth and wholeness.  

We’ve had our first group discussion about the book, and it generated some good ideas about how this flip would benefit us, and where we would also feel some resistance to this.  I’m interested to see where we go with it.

The Tree Protest


This week I’m leading Chalice Camp for 7-10 year olds at my church, and it was also the week that work really got going on a new parking lot addition.  It involved trees coming down, and that was extremely upsetting to many of the kids in the camp.  They are UU kids: environmentalists who expect their voices to be heard.

The most passionate formed a “tree protest club”, made protest signs and wanted to give speeches.  (Pictured are my children, since I know I have photo permission for those, but there were 8 kids in the club, out of 15 in the camp.)

My co-teacher and I shelved the original plans for a bit, and we had a long discussion and then gave them the time to give us their speeches.


It was emotional.  It was difficult.  I think it was the right thing to do.  Church community in action, again.

How to Communicate Now



There is a lot of discussion about the need for Digital Ministry in UUism (or religion in general) right now, plus discussion of what sort of communication technologies will best reach younger people.

I hear from people my age or younger that email is antiquated, and that they want me to send them a text message or facebook them.

Then I hear from others (in the same age range) that they refuse to use facebook – don’t look for them there – why aren’t you on Twitter?  Or Tumblr?  Or Google Plus? (OK, those people are all nerds, but they still count! 😉

Those much older than me say they just miss the old fashioned courtesy of paper.  Why can’t we keep sending them things in the mail?  Why do we have to make them get on the computer and assault their eyes with flickering images when paper was so perfectly fine?

Other people quite candidly tell me that they are so overwhelmed by ALL forms of communication that they would prefer I not bother them with much – except what they really want to hear about.  Of course, since I can’t read their minds to know what they will care about, this is tricky.

What is a poor DRE to do?

I can’t pick the one best form of communication.  No matter what any group tells you, in my experience there is no such beast.  What it seems to me that I need to do is communicate with breadth AND depth, casting my net widely and yet also baiting it with content worth reading/watching/listening to.

I have little lists of people in my congregation, with marks next to their names for Text, Call, Email, Facebook, or Snail Mail.  I try to reach out to people in the method they prefer, even though that may mean that I have to take the same message and transmit it in all these multiple formats.

I am actively blogging and on facebook, and I write weekly and monthly emails to the families in my congregation.  I write a monthly report that I disseminate widely to the leadership of my congregation via email.  I send birthday  and thank you cards and calendars of upcoming events (hoping they will get stuck to fridges with a magnet) via snail mail.  I put up posters on the church walls and place colorful trifold brochures in strategic locations about the building.  I’m also experimenting with Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus, Ning, and YouTube.

Which is the Best way to communicate?  Until everyone is willing to all line up and choose just one, all I can see is the Best Way to Communicate with X, and then the Best Way to Communicate with Y.  A challenge for those of us in this ministry business, indeed.

The Care and Feeding of Volunteers


It’s that time of year again: time for religious education programs in congregations all over to be recognizing their current volunteers and recruiting volunteers to staff next year’s program.  This can be a stressful time for the staff person, or whoever is responsible for finding all those volunteers.


Fifty Volunteers!  Can it be done?  (This is for ideal staffing levels, folks, just to be clear.  I could run the program with a team of half that size, but then, well, they would all be doing twice as much work, right?)

Volunteers are what makes these programs run.  It is the sharing of their time, talents, energy – their gifts – with the children and youth that makes this an effective ministry.

So how do we find, recruit, support, and retain these volunteers?  I wrote my 7 Ways to Care For Your Volunteers out on my other blog last year.  Now I’m also interested to read Sharing the Ministry by Jean Morris Trumbauer.  Trumbauer points out that the old models of “Fill the Slot” and “Fuss and Beg” (love those names) for volunteer management are not effective and we should instead work toward an intentional model of shared ministry.

Instead of just focusing on Recruitment, we should divide our time among:

1.  Recruiting

2. Interviewing

3.  Matching

4.  Training

5.  Supervising

6. Supporting

7.  Evaluating

8. Managing Data

9.  Planning

10.  Discovering Gifts

11.  Designing

It’s both a bigger job and a smaller job, because it’s not about finding 50 volunteers by going down the church directory and just calling everyone (whether they are really right for this job or not) and begging and cajoling them to do it (then begging and cajoling them to never quit).  No, it’s not about filling spots, but instead about designing and running a program all year long that is exciting and inviting for volunteers to work on.  It’s about supporting volunteers, appreciating them, and facilitating them in seeing their work as an important ministry and a personal growth/fun/social/enrichment activity all rolled into one.

So the question I’m looking at right now is, where are the 50 people whose gifts will shine in our RE program?  How do I let them know about the opportunities and invite them into the program?  And how will I  train, support, and appreciate them all year long?