Perhaps you feel God leading you in starting a ministry with autistic individuals or those with disabilities or special needs. That is great. One of the things to consider in establishing an effective ministry is the type of volunteer you are looking for to help this mission and ministry be fruitful.
There is a tendency in established churches to go with what I call the “warm body approach” to volunteer recruitment. In this approach, the church has a vision for a ministry and asks people, often from the pulpit, to be a part of the mission. Leaders, then, get frustrated when few have the same passion for this mission or express a feeling of inadequacy to volunteer.
The warm body approach leads to frustration that hinders mission and ministry.
A better approach is to seek after volunteers who have a passion for mission and ministry. I firmly believe that passion can make up for inexperience because there is a desire to want to see a ministry or mission thrive. This is true for all forms of ministry in the church but is especially the case for ministry with the special needs community. A passion for inclusion can make up for a person’s lack of knowledge about autism.
When someone is interested in being involved and working with special needs individuals, I believe three values are important to look for in the person.
One is a sense of compassion. You can be passionate about mission and ministry and, at the same time, not exhibit compassion or empathy for the individual you are walking beside. The lack of compassion, when it comes to special needs ministry, often comes out in ableism. This belief is that someone with a disability cannot do anything for themselves or cannot contribute to society. Ableism in the church expresses itself through the sense of fear of interacting with a disabled person or believing that someone caring for that person has too much on their plate.
A volunteer with a sense of compassion expresses love and understanding towards the individual and their family. They become the person’s biggest supporter and encourager. Essentially, you are looking for someone with empathy, grace, and a desire to understand what it means to work with the special needs community.
The second volunteer characteristic is a teachable spirit. It is crucial to have volunteers who want to learn, ask questions, and are not afraid to ask for help. Ministry is often hindered by those who believe they know it all or have all the answers. These types of volunteers are not helpful because their opinion or perspective is the only one that matters to them. It is a self-focused approach to mission and ministry that runs counter to the presence of Christ.
A volunteer with a teachable spirit comes in ready to learn how best to engage the ministry. They contribute their perspectives but are also willing to grow in their knowledge of how best to engage mission and ministry. This type of volunteer, as well, is humble in seeking to grow in their love of others and, most importantly, Christ.
The third value is being a team player. Collaborative ministry is at the heart of fruitful ministry because it brings people together to work towards a shared vision and purpose that seeks to glorify God and help share love with people. The counter to collaborative ministry is a solo-focused leader who does everything on their own and wants to be the main person involved in the ministry. This type of leadership prevents others from being involved and creates a barrier that prevents inclusion from taking place because it becomes all about the leader and not the mission.
A team player-type volunteer desires to work with others towards the vision of the ministry. They understand their role within the team and help others to thrive. They contribute their perspectives but see others on the team as being important. They also involve the perspectives and involvement of special needs individuals and families within the conversation and team and wanting what is best for the mission.
A ministry to the special needs community thrives on its volunteers. When the church has the right people involved, it can be a blessing for the community and the volunteers.