Intrinsic Rewards: Keys to Service

If your group has ever wrestled with the question of whether paying church volunteers would improve their service, this article is for you.Payment—cash, gifts, or perks—is the mainstay of secular employers’ attracting new workers. Yet many employers have found that the intangibles, intrinsic rewards, are what keep their employees at their posts for the long term.

So when payment is out of the question, leaders must ensure that intrinsic rewards, the emotional charges that energize decision-making and self-management, are regularly firing up their volunteers. These motivators can be recognized and tracked. So let’s apply to the Sabbath School leadership the four types of intrinsic rewards outlined by Kenneth W. Thomas in his book, Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment.

1. Sense of Choice

The phrase bounced around church circles a few years ago was “serving in your own armor.” This means encouraging volunteers to use their own creativity and judgment. This says, “You are in charge. Your insights and viewpoints matter, and they are appreciated.” It’s like giving the approving slap on the back even before the deed is done. The reward is the joy of ownership and accountability.

Case in Point: Sensory Aids. A teacher is not using any aids. The superintendent explains the value of sensory aids to the learning and implementation process and shares a handout on the subject.

Then the superintendent brainstorms with the teacher about possible aids for the next week’s lesson. They build a list of possible aids, rather than the superintendent giving the teacher a list that he or she wants to have implemented. In this way the superintendent has seeded future accomplishments for that teacher.

2. Sense of Meaningfulness

The “true to duty as the needle to the pole” idea kicks in. These volunteers have an eye single to their mission. Volunteers whose responsibility has great meaning to them think about their tasks, plan for their tasks, and work on their tasks fervently and consistently. They find ways around, over, or through obstacles.

Case in Point: Lack of Funds. We all know of superintendents who spend their own money to buy felts for the children’s classes, Investment leaders who seed projects by giving their own money to interested members, teachers who buy their own resource materials, secretaries who supply the pens and notebooks from their personal budget, program participants who buy their own costumes, music, etc. Rather than waiting for outside intervention, these volunteers invest their resources. Their reward is sensing that their efforts matter.

3. Sense of Competence

These are the faces of the “I can” spirit. These volunteers have been affirmed for the way that they respond to situations that arise during Bible discussions. Others have heard the amens that affirm that they have mastered the skills of public speaking or small group interaction. Some volunteers have a reputation for giving reports that are both accurate and interesting. All the volunteers in this group have a sense of pride in their service, and they plan how to increase their competence.

Case in Point: Lifelong Learning. Sister Jones, a retired college professor, has been superintendent through the administrations of four U.S. presidents. She remembers when first-class postage was six cents for each letter. Her son is a lawyer, and her daugher teaches physics at a university. Yet Sister Jones attends every conference training event and, soon, after each event, facilitates sharing workshops in her local Sabbath School. She duplicates and distributes the workshop materials that she received. She secures the resources that were suggested at the workshop and uses them to coordinate quarterly workshops in her church between conference training events. Sister Jones’s reward is seeing herself grow as both a learner and an administrator.

4. Sense of Progress

This is the high-five, thumbs-up sense that your time and efforts are paying off.

Case in Point: the Payoff. At 9:45 a.m. there are 24 adult members—including Joel, the superintendent—in a church that will be filled with 300 people by 11:15 a.m. Joel praises the Lord anyhow, because regular attendance is up from 19. That afternoon he prays and plans with his assistant and two teachers about the following agenda: (1) how to raise attendance to 35 at the 9:30 a.m. Sabbath School; (2) how to help his assistant start an 8:00 a.m. Sabbath School for members who are early risers and/or want to do outreach from 9:30 until 10:30 a.m.; (3) how to grow the Friday night Sabbath School he hosts in his home for adult members who don’t attend Sabbath morning services prior to 11:15. Joel’s reward is the excitement of tracking the progress his team is making.

The Wrap

So at the end of this calendar year it is good that superintendents review the rewards of Sabbath School ministry. Are all of the intrinsic rewards cited and affirmed for each team member: choice, meaningfulness, competence, and progress? These are the rewards of long-term service in the Sabbath School ministry in the local church.


© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists