Untrained Volunteers

Signs and Symptoms

by Dick Gruber, D.Min./ April 5, 2016

In my past four decades of ministry to children, I’ve been blessed to serve alongside some of the best volunteers on this planet. While serving with, and being a volunteer, I’ve discovered two truths. First, volunteers long for care. Second, volunteers will not reach their full potential without training. Let’s leave volunteer care for another blog and focus on signs and symptoms that your volunteers are not receiving enough training. 

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Untrained Volunteers 

The untrained volunteer believes he is serving his time in the children’s department. He arrives just seconds before class time and can hardly wait to leave when it is over. He complains to everybody but his leader. He is grumpy, unprepared, and unpleasant. His portion of the class time is disorganized, confusing, and lacks creativity. Burnout is his battle cry and bitterness his breakfast. 

Right now you are thinking, I know this guy. How do I get rid of him and find a winner? I propose to you that he is that winner! Jim Wideman writes, “Maybe your next superstar helper has already been recruited–but you haven’t coached star-level performance out of that person yet. Look for potential in people and work with them.”[1] With a lot of love, and a training plan, a sad excuse for a children’s leader can become your next superstar. 

First pray. Seek God’s wisdom on behalf of this leader. Next, spend time with that leader. You have to learn to like him first. Look beyond his current performance and discover his future strengths. 

Let me address the characteristics described above.

  1. Serving his time syndrome—instill a passion for his involvement as service for the King and not just a job.
  2. Tardiness and immediate escape—inspire a love for the children that extends beyond the classroom and time. This is described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:8.
  3. Complaining spirit—encourage a spirit of gratitude in the volunteer. You may also need to teach appropriate conflict resolution skills.
  4. Grumpy—involve him in creating an atmosphere of godly joy in your children’s department. It’s hard to stay grumpy when you’re working to help those around you become joyful.
  5. Unprepared, disorganized, or lacking creativity—invest in time management and lesson design training for this person. Teach a variety of storytelling and Scripture teaching methods to all workers.
  6. Burnout and bitterness—insure that this volunteer, and all your volunteers, experience regular Sabbath times. God didn’t design anyone to serve constantly for years without a break. 

In the book, The Disney Way, it says, “Train extensively and constantly reinforce the company’s culture.”[2]  You must, as a leader of children’s leaders, implement a constant training and support culture for all volunteers. Well-trained volunteers, who know you have their backs, will serve in a positive way for extended periods of time. 


  • Training is more caught than taught. Most volunteers easily implement what is modeled for them by a competent teacher.
  • Training begins with a passion for children’s ministry. This passion, or vision will motivate people to serve even under the worst conditions.
  • Training includes a plan to produce the highest quality fruit in the lives of children.
  • Training is about building the people, not the ministry.
  • Training emphasizes who a volunteer is more than what they can do.

[1] Jim Wideman, Children’s Ministry Leadership (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2003), 103. 

[2] Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, The Disney Way (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Books. ,2007), 10.