“I had the experience, but I missed the meaning,” is a quote often attributed to T.S. Eliot. It speaks to the multitude of significant experiences that volunteers and ministry leaders have each week but miss the meaning of those experiences because we didn’t take the time to reflect.
Here are some ways you can help volunteers connect experience to meaning:
- Help volunteers understand the importance of reflection as an energizer for service. In your training, provide examples of Biblical characters who took opportunities to reflect, such as Moses at the burning bush; Jonah, after his fish adventure; David, in his Psalms; Mary in her ponderings; and Jesus in the olive garden. Each of these show examples of busy people, who paused and thought about their activities and thought deeply about what they meant, and how the activities impacted them.
- Provide volunteers with a place for reflection. You can use such tools as a blog site, a journal, scrapbook tools or art supplies to express their ponderings. Many churches have developed Facebook pages for various ministries in their churches, so that volunteers can post their thoughts about their service, connect their service to the Biblical messages they are hearing and allow others to read their musings. These posts are often one of the most effective tools for leaders to attract others into that particular area of ministry, since they are often unfiltered, timely and from the volunteer perspective.
- Good reflection always asks two questions, “So what?” and “Now what?” If there are too many questions to think about, a volunteer can get lost in the details, and may lose their own personal reflections on questions that are posed by someone else.
- Let people reflect in a method that’s meaningful to them. Some people like physical movement while reflecting, such as walking, running, jogging, while others like to sit still and think quietly. Encourage volunteers to find their most comfortable time, place and position for reflection, and provide them with tools that work in those settings.
- Encourage volunteers to share their reflections with their team. Those reflections can serve as wonderful motivators to continue in service, and stimulate team members to reflect on their service as well.
As a caution—don’t confuse reflection with evaluation. They are definitely different! Evaluation looks at what happened, and is focused on processes, procedures and planning. Reflection is focused on what happened to those serving internally, spiritually, and in relation to how they are learning and growing as a disciple. Both are important activities, but should not happen simultaneously for either to be effective.
Reflection is not reserved for just the contemplative volunteers, but should be encouraged for all people serving so that no one will pass their own burning bush and miss the meaning.