How Can a Prolife Ministry Keep Sidewalk Volunteers?
You are a pro-life ministry or a leader trying to train and gather volunteers to speak in front of abortion centers. You have spent hours training and bushels of money on fancy volunteer t-shirts. You have given them access to an exclusive, private ministry facebook group site. You have motivational videos and a yearly lavish picnic. You have given each volunteer a ministry bumper sticker and coffee mug with your logo and inspirational verse.They have 24-hour access to your private cell phone number with the invitation to call if they have any needs at any time. You have made sure they know they are valued and you express appreciation and encouragement regularly. You do all you know to do…only to have them quit after a month.
Let me share what that once enthusiastic volunteer is experiencing. The reality of what sidewalk counseling entails has set in. Long hours in hot sun or frigid sleet. Sunburn. Frostbite. Frizzy hair in 100% humidity.The people she thought would be so grateful for her help are cussing at her and calling her names. The police are summoned when she steps one toe onto the clinic property. The emotional high that made her so excited to save the world has plummeted into reality of early morning alarms shattering her sleep and a dull headache as she anticipates the abuse that will be heaped upon her by what she had initially pictured as grateful damsels in distress. No newspapers are nominating her for the “citizen of the year” award. In fact, the newspaper coverage of her work is usually way on the other side of flattering. Some of her friends are calling her a religious kook… behind her back, of course. Suddenly volunteering has lost its allure.
How can a ministry overcome the inevitable onslaught of reality that makes so many volunteers melt away? How can volunteers be encouraged despite very real physical, emotional, and spiritual hardships?
After interviewing several of our Cities4Life consistent, long-term volunteers, there emerged common themes in what encouraged them to continue despite the obvious difficulties and disappointments of sidewalk ministry. These common traits that keep loyal volunteers faithful to the ministry for extended periods of time are useful to consider for anyone who struggles with the problem of a plentiful harvest… but few laborers.
Remind Them of the Calling
“I continue to come to the sidewalk because there are children who are still being killed, and I want to be a voice for them.”
“What keeps me coming back….When God births a passion in your heart for life, to see babies saved and for abortion to end, then you just have to be obedient and go. I am called to be a voice for the voiceless and once you go, you can’t sit back anymore and do nothing. I picture that little baby in the womb crying out to be rescued and that compels me. I know that the enemy doesn’t want us to take action, so that motivates me . I also know that this is even bigger than saving babies….it is God’s Kingdom being established and we as believers are all called to do that in different capacities. Finally, I think this is part of God’s destiny for my life. So, it is knowing my calling and walking in it.”
The volunteers who endure unfailingly remember on a regular basis why they are there. They understand they have been called by God. Their love for Him and what He loves sustains them. They use terms like “calling”, “destiny”, and “purpose.” They have a clear picture of the horror of abortion, and a strong desire to be a part of those who speak and act to end it. They always recognize this is God’s battle, and they are expected to join!
Remind Them of the Commitment
“Also, it has helped me personally to come out consistently rather than sporadically.”
“Most weeks what gets me there is my commitment.”
A small business owner once told me that he could train people to do the job, but the biggest problem he had was not skill level of potential employees. It was commitment. He told me that showing up, on time were the two key characteristics of employees who were likely to last in his employment.
That is true of our volunteers as well. The ones that stick it out are ones that value commitment and take it seriously. They recognize that it is easy to make vague promises of showing up when they have availability as opposed to the true commitment of making themselves available consistently when they are most needed.
The Bible reminds us to let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no. God often chastises lukewarm commitment. He wants us all in for Him. Showing up on time is a discipline that leads to staying power in the face of adversity as a volunteer.
Remind Them of the Community
“It is encouraging to see the growth in the lives of everyone involved in the sidewalk ministry as we come out of our comfortable places and share His truth!”
“Ministering along fellow sidewalk counselors is encouraging.”
“I’m encouraged listening to words of wisdom from what other sidewalk counselor say as they’re calling out.”
“Once I am there, what keeps me there is the community of believers I am battling with. On the weeks that feel dry, it’s the encouragement of the others I’m serving with!”
God knows the necessity of a spiritual community to hold us accountable as well as to encourage and uplift us. The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19 illustrates this principle well. When we believe we are all alone in a battle, we can quickly lose heart. But if we see that there are committed co-laborers enduring the same tribulations, we are strengthened in our resolve to stand together as a community of Christ followers to a common purpose and goal.
Just as mob mentality can drive people to the lowest common denominator, the faithful example of Godly friends and co-laborers can drive us to be more than we thought we could be. Never underestimate the power of a Christ-focused friend who bears the same burdens and perseveres with integrity and enthusiasm.
Remind Them of God’s Commands
“Scripture is necessary for encouragement.”
“Sanctification! 1 Thessalonians says the will of God is our sanctification and we are to desire it. The sidewalks themselves are sanctifying to believers; we must obey the commandments of scripture to speak up for the voiceless since how we love shows that we love our Lord (1 John) “
The power of God’s word is never to be underestimated. The volunteers who persevere are always those who abide deeply in His word. The spiritual warfare is intense in prolife ministry. We CANNOT fight that without spiritual armor.
The director of Cities4life tells all new volunteers, “You cannot give what you do not have.”
If we are to give the hope and help of Jesus, we must possess it for ourselves first. We find an intimate understanding of God in His word. The more we immerse ourselves in God’s character and truths as He provides in the Bible, the more we are able to fight the battle in the manner that honors Him.
Remind Them of the Compensation
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
“What keeps me encouraged…….even when ONE baby is saved, all of heaven rejoices and death is defeated. I am encouraged as I see believers and Christians beginning to take a stand against this evil and see it for what it is and the church is waking up to this more and more as they see us on the sidewalk. There has not been one Tuesday when I haven’t come away with even a tiny seed of encouragement…..so that makes it worth it. And extremely encouraging when we see the Holy Spirit transform hearts of moms and dads right in front of us and watch the blinders come off their eyes. I want to be a part of what God is doing !”
“I was saved on the sidewalks which especially fuels me to know that Gods word never returns void and that lives are being saved regardless of what momentary results are. The sidewalks literally force you to battle against your flesh by not getting into it with pro-aborts, fighting spiritual and physical illnesses that want to keep you from coming out, remind you that souls are lost and need Christ, how can you not keep coming out? Satan wins we don’t come out. And above all force you to remain in the word and rely on your Lord to keep you and sustain you. It’s a challenge but rewarding.”
The intensity of the struggle in front of an abortion center is likely the greatest trial many of our volunteers have faced, certainly on a spiritual realm. However, time and time again, the volunteers who come back day after day, year after year are those who see the big picture. They see the rewards. They feel the pleasure of God and they rejoice in the privilege of being used by Him.
Remind Them of the Conclusion
“I keep coming back because even though we may not see the fruit, I think it is SO very important to bring the gospel to the lost and keep planting seeds.
What encourages me? I want to see an end to abortion and I want the lost to be found!”
“What keeps me encouraged is the stories of families that have been impacted through the faithfulness of the sidewalk ministry.”
We want abortion to end. We want the lost to be found. We want families to be impacted for Christ and restored. We want to be the one who plants seeds and obeys God in sharing the Gospel.
The best volunteers are those who keep their eye on the end of the story. God is the victor. His plans and purposes will be fulfilled. How wonderful that we are a part of His solution.
Remind Them their strength is in Christ
“I returned to the sidewalk almost every Wednesday for God’s Glory and to share with these moms running in fear where their Hope can be found. The devil will try to discourage me in countless ways because he does not want anyone proclaiming The Good News. We serve an Amazing God and I keep looking vertical for my strength.”
None of us can persevere without the power of God. This is an enormously draining battle. There appears to be no end in sight. We do grow weary. We are too hot, too cold, too tired, too weak, too tongue-tied, too ill equipped…
But Jesus Christ is sufficient. When we recognize and encourage our volunteers to recognize that our strength resides in God, not in ourselves, we can heave a deep sigh of relief.
We are unable. He is able. Every volunteer that knows this simple truth is one that has the potential to run the race to the finish line.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 1-2