My parish has been experiencing a great deal of change lately.  Our two partner parishes have been clustered under a pastor.  This pastor along with another priest provide sacramental ministry to all three parishes.  My parish is led by a pastoral administrator.  In the midst of this change, the pastoral administrator went on leave and was replaced by a temporary pastoral administrator, an experienced deacon.  Less than two months after he arrived, the part time coordinator of social ministry resigned since she had obtained a full time teaching job.  I should also mention that the financial condition of the parish has been weakening and there is a pressing need to reduce costs and/or increase income.  

In order to provide the temporary pastoral administrator with some breathing room and to maintain some momentum in our social ministry effort--which had been struggling a bit recently--I offered to serve as coordinator of social ministry on a temporary, volunteer basis.  There are opportunities and pitfalls in this arrangement.  Does anyone have experience with using volunteers--permanent or temporary--to provide hat had been staff functions?  What are some of the suggestions for managing a volunteer who is  a "staff member" but not really?  How might this affect the dynamics of a staff group?

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A challenging situation indeed, Bill.  Your parish is blessed to have someone as experienced (and willing!) as you to step in temporarily.

The experience I have had in my own parish is that setting clear expectations for all involved (the volunteer, the staff, the pastor, the people being served) is a key component.  I am a big believer in that being in writing - a position description, agreement on attendance at staff meetings, etc.  This also means that differences and similarities between a volunteer and a paid employee performing the same function are transparent and there are no surprises for the volunteer or the paid staff.

I have also learned from the Standards for Excellence (Standards 23-24) that best HR practices apply equally to volunteer staff as to employees.  The education resource packet that addresses volunteer coordination provides many examples of best practices.  In other words, the important element is not that someone is serving in a volunteer capacity, but that the same expectations of employee/employers apply and need to be addressed.

I am very interested to learn from the comments of others and in time, from your own experience.

I agree with Michael. My pastor has successfully used volunteers alongside paid employees extensively. It is important for volunteers to be told what is expected of them (job description), and to receive periodic coaching and ultimately a performance meeting. I suggest volunteers and parishes agree to a specific period after which they will sit down and mutually evaluate the situation (perhaps 6 months, but no more than a year).

The importance of a job description can't be emphasized enough. Its existence shows the parish leadership has thought through and captured what they want of the volunteer. It shows the volunteer what is expected of him or her. If everyone starts from the same page (pun intended), the volunteer should be able to be more productive sooner. I also believe that such efforts to qualify and quantify the volunteer's duties will also attract capable volunteers who want to know what they are agreeing to do and for how long.

As for your questions about group dynamics, it would be helpful for the senior leader to introduce you and describe your duties at a staff meeting. I would advise you to listen and observe how things are done. The fact that you are a volunteer and others are paid should, ideally, not really matter as long as everyone is collaborative and recognizes the other's area of responsibility and talents.

Thanks for sharing this Bill.

One of the most important things a professor of ministry once said to me while I was going to school for my degree in youth ministry was this:

Ministry does not equal Minister. 

Since that time I have heard it countless times in ministry.  Enough to realize that it was not an original thought but that it is a mantra in parish Lay Ecclesial Ministry circles.  I only wish I had seen it enacted more in my ministry.

As mentioned by others I too have learned that it is common theory, if not practice, to have at least two people per leadership role in volunteer ministry.  But what does a paid parish staff member do?  Train volunteers to learn their position?


That was exactly the approach I took thanks to the helpful training in my certificate program in youth ministry - the program from the Center for Ministry Development.  Hands down it was the best, most practical training I received.  In terms of actually doing ministry, it was a Godsend that I received this training first.  I received no such training in my Master's Degree in Pastoral Ministry....hmmm.

Well, as awkward as it was at first for volunteers (the core team had 50+ adult volunteers on the core team, let alone the dozens of episodic volunteers) to see me purposely planning events when I could not attend or "training" them to lead portions of the ministry that the youth minister (me) would normally undertake, I did just that.  Some I am sure wondered, 'Why are those volunteers doing the youth minister's "job"', or 'Why is the youth minister not at this event?' I continued along this path believing it was the right path and my role as a pastoral leader was to do just that.

I have often heard the critique that with a strong volunteer ministry that there is no need for a paid staff person.  I am confident that there were those who thought, well, if the youth minister is not present for this then why do we pay this person.  However, those that were involved knew that it took just as much time (maybe more time) to properly coordinate, train, empower, and support volunteers, as it does to do it oneself. 

And after three years of dedicating to this approach it showed.  The outreach and ministries available to the youth of the parish doubled because I was able to dedicate my time to new initiatives while trained parishioners were coordinating other areas of parish ministry.  And the most significant realization of all came when I needed to leave th parish.  Previous to these three years if the youth minister were to leave the parish ministry would have been significantly affected without a staff member in the position.  The parish instead was able to sustain itself for about a year and a half (including a mis-hire for the position) and sustain all the ministries to youth at the parish.  No small feat considering that the calendar year included a minimum of 3 spiritual weekend retreats, a week long international service experience, and three local weekend service experiences, in addition to weekly, seasonal, and sacramental preparation meetings for Confirmation.

The parish is truly blessed to have someone like you Bill who knows the parish, the ministry, and the people to step in.  My continued prayer is that Lay Ecclesial Ministers in the parish that are paid continue to see ourselves as co-responsible with the pastor in the animation of the community and not doers of the ministry or the one that "fills the holes" in parish ministry with willing parishioners.


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