Straight Talk About Church Volunteers | Mary Ann Sibley

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Our guest Mary Ann Sibley shares from her experience in church, for the first time, as a non-believer and how the church volunteers impacted that experience.

Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: [00:00:38] Well, hey, Mary Ann, how are you? Welcome to the show.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:00:41] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:44] Are you doing well?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:00:45] I’m doing great. I have a little minor cough, have a little cold, but I’m good.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:52] All right, I am pumped about our conversation today. I’m super excited. I love all of our shows that we do, but this one always is just intriguing to me because I want our audience to hear your story. And then we’re going to get into some cool things that you’ve been focusing on inside the church, but let’s let our listeners know a little bit about you and your story and tell us.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:01:16] Tell you. Well, first I have a little disclaimer, I guess. And that’s when I was invited, I was thrilled, but I get communications and it’s kind of on the technical side when you talk about behind the scenes, that’s not this girl. And I thought, oh gosh, I don’t think I have anything to offer. But, you know, I was at the conference last year with the communications with Katie and such, and I went there just to be a fly on the wall and just to kind of get a pulse and hear what folks are doing. And what I discovered was that, oh gosh, guess what? Every voice does matter, including mine, and so just being able to sit there and give a little perspective and some encouragement to those working so much behind the scenes. So thank you again for inviting me and having me on today.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:02:07] So my story, I was raised in North Carolina. I’m a Southern girl, my mom’s Japanese, and my dad’s from Kentucky. So I’ve got this mixed blend thing happening of being in the South with a little bit of Japanese of words, I cannot pronounce all the English words. But I was raised Buddhist, I did not go to church growing up. In fact, I have so many stories that really are heartbreaking of how people that I saw go to church, either ignored, diminished anything with our family, or just did some really hurtful things, and so I grew up seeing church and church people as something I wanted no part of. My dad was a marine and so he had to go overseas several times, which left my mom and my sister and I like a single mom. And there is one summer I was in the fourth grade, so my sister then was like in the second grade, so here you have a seven-year-old and a nine, eight, nine-year-old. We lived on an acre-ish lot, and we had a push mower, and it was no landscaping, it was just a lot. And so the way we would cut the grass is we would start at the very back of the lot and my mom could push the lawn mower, this cute little Japanese woman, she’d pushed that mower at least twice. She could go one, two, and then she’d start the third and she’d get tired. And my sister and I had those little old folding chairs that frayed and pinched you, and we would sit there and I would get up and I would finish it, and I would then kind of get back, and then I would sit down and my sister would get up and she would do a little bit. And then we’d move the chairs back and my mom would get up and that was our rotation. Like, that’s, we’d move the chairs back, and move the chairs back, and the reward was always Dairy Queen ice cream. So we did as a team. But one of our neighbors had a riding lawnmower, and I remember looking at that riding lawnmower thinking, how fun would that be? And I wish we had a riding lawn mower. And so when my dad got back from serving in Vietnam, they never invited us to church, but when my dad got back, they invited us. So the timing, I have no idea. But I remember Saturday morning my mom came to my dad and said, oh, so-and-so, and she in her voice, invite us to church. And my dad’s like, did they ever come over and help my girls cut the grass while I was gone? Because he knew they had a riding lawnmower. And she said no, and he said they can keep their church. And as an impressionable nine-year-old fourth grader, that was like, that’s right. You know, I mean, I own that. If my dad said it, it was happening. And so that was so many of the beginnings of if you said church to me or anything that I saw on TV, it was to me something I either avoided or I saw as really negative.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:05:40] So when I found myself a single mom in my 40s, I had two boys, they were roughly middle school, and elementary school age, suffering from depression, and had one suicide attempt. So obviously things were happening, but on the outside, I looked great. Like I was vice president of a commercial lending bank, National Bank, so I was traveling, I was lending millions of dollars. So on the outside, man, I had it together, but clearly, I didn’t. And in 40 years, no one except for that one family that we rejected, but especially myself as a single mom, nobody invited me to church personally, not in high school, I’m in the South, not in college, nothing.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:06:34] And so now I’m in my 40s, and I’m this crazy single mom. And one of the neighbors started just loving on us, just loving on us, being kind to us, including my boys, including me. And it took two years of my saying no before we finally went. She would say, hey, you should come and check out church. I was like, no. Like, you know, she’s coming over, and I’m closing the door. And, you know, God, this is what I love, I love, I love, God was softening my heart and he was providing the steps. And she, my friend, her name is Becky, I always said I didn’t know God, but I knew Becky. And between Becky and her family, that first time coming to church because they loved my boys, and, you know, I was a single mom, if you love my kids well, you’re going to get my attention. And so after two years of this, and I’m watching, I’m like, and now the boys are like, we need to go to church. And I’m thinking, who are you? Because Becky had boys and they played together and they did fun things and their church would invite them. And I would look at these outings they take my boys and never once did I think, oh, what nice church people. I would think free Saturday. Like, you know, this was just rescue, and they never preached at me, nothing. And I kept waiting for it, but they would invite me.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:08:11] So that first Sunday I decided to go, I was nervous, I honestly thought I was going to throw up because, you know, walk me into a board room, get me on a plane to New York or California and I’m great.

Jason Hamrock: [00:08:26] You’re good.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:08:28] Church, no. Because I had pre-decided, okay, I know I’m not going to like you, and I’m pretty sure you’re not going to like me. And you’re going to see this single mom walk in and you’re going to start judging and questioning me, and I don’t need that in my life, frankly. So I decided to go because the boys begged and I just needed to get Becky off my back. You know, I just need to go one time and be kind and go, thanks, I went, don’t ask me again. And as we were driving into this little tiny church, and at that time, the church was maybe 100, 140 people, I was intimidated like crazy. And we pulled into this tiny, tiny parking lot, and I say to myself, give me one reason to leave, just one reason. Just look at me funny, or don’t look at me, like roll that eye, like anything, I am looking for a reason, I was that girl. And so we pull into this parking lot and I’m thinking, oh, no place to park. I guess we have to leave. And there was this one guy with a vest on in the parking lot as a volunteer, and he sees me, and he smiles and he waves at me. And I was like, oh, great. And he’s like, come this way, and I follow him, and he points to the one parking spot that’s left, and he says, right here. And I parked, and I’m like, now I have to get out.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:10:03] And, you know, I think about, someday I’ll have this conversation with God, he’s like, okay, we got her there. Now she’s just got to get out. Like, you know, it’s just the baby steps. And that first Sunday of coming to church, everything was under the microscope. Like what everything smelled like, what people were wearing. Were they talking about me? Were they looking at my boys? Where do I sit? I don’t even know the rules of your church, do I…All I knew is what I saw on TV, do we stand up, do we sit down, you know, I was clueless. The words they were singing I didn’t understand, and I’m looking at some of the words of, one of the jokes, was the very first Christian song I ever heard was Ancient of Days. Do y’all know that song?

Bart Blair: [00:11:00] I do, yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:11:01] We’re laughing because I’m thinking, that’s bad English. Like, I’m sitting there and they’re singing Ancient of Days, and I’m going, this is a cult. I don’t know. I don’t know. But, you know, it didn’t offend me, and I didn’t run screaming out the door, and I came back. And it was only about a month later when I met Jesus, and then my boys met Jesus, and everything changed. So I have a huge red hot memory, like, it is right here that day. And for whatever reason, I know that God’s never going to let me forget that, because I know that not only are there people like me who are like, okay, I know I look good, but I’ll go to church and figure it out. But there are people who know church, and they’re looking to go back, or there is sometimes maybe just complacency, and they’re showing up at your church and they’re just like, you know, checking the box. And we have a great opportunity to flip that upside down, right? We just can’t waste a Sunday.

Jason Hamrock: [00:12:15] What was the, go back, what was the moment that made you think, I like these people and I’m going to come back? What was it?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:12:25] So in the beginning, I came back not the very next week, but only the weeks to take my boys, okay? Because my boys were really tied into the kids at the church. And so I was being a good mom, bringing them to the church. And I also wanted to make sure it wasn’t a cult, because my kids were so involved. I’m like, I’m just going to come with them and hear and read and listen and see, because if it is, you know, I need to pull them out, they can’t be friends anymore.

Jason Hamrock: [00:12:56] Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:12:56] So that was really the, that was the real initiative. Like Becky got me into the church, right? This is a family that loved on this family, period. Invited me to cookouts, let her husband come over and fix something that was broken in my home, and help to soften my heart so that I finally felt like, okay, I’ll go because I like you guys and you’ve been kind to me and you’ve not shown me anything but love and acceptance, so I’m willing to give it a shot. But once I’m in there, now I’m exposed to the environment, the other people, what I’m hearing and seeing, right?

Jason Hamrock: [00:13:42] Yeah. So, Mary Ann, you were going every other week because you had shared custody with your ex-husband, so your sons were only with you. But at one point, I know your story, at one point you decided to go one Sunday without your sons.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:13:56] I know that’s crazy talk. So, this is y’all, I like. Okay, this is the thing, when I talk to ministry people, and especially the work that I do, we want a lot of logistics. And I think with tech and communications, it’s a lot of buttons, it’s tech, it’s all this. Which it is, and it’s important and we need it. But somehow, in the midst of all that, we have forgotten the awe and wonder of God and what he can actually do. We just forget. And so going that day, I woke up and later, months later, people in the church said, we’ve been praying for you, and we’d see you come in. Like all this was happening behind the scenes, I had no idea. But I woke up one Sunday after going to bed Saturday night without my boys, and I had a crazy idea of maybe I should go to church, like, just me, I don’t know, that might be a good idea. And I kind of played with it and I said, we’ll see, I’ll get up in the morning. So I’m an early riser, I overslept Sunday morning, I never oversleep, I am a single mom over here. You’ve got to get up before the crack of dawn and get those kids going. And so I thought, well, that’s fine, I missed church. I’m not going to go, like, I’m not going to, you know, beat myself up to go. But then, and I know now this was the Holy Spirit, it was like, go anyways, you just go. And I’m like well, I might be late and, oh, I’m a stickler for lateness, so that’s a whole nother issue. And my dad in the military is like, you’re there early, and if you’re on time, you’re late. But for whatever reason, I got dressed and I went to church. And when I walked in the door, I could hear the music and I knew, oh, great, it’s late. I didn’t have my boys as my, like, little barrier, my little comfort, it was just me. And, now, remember, this is a small, small church. And I walked in and everyone was standing and I peered in the door and I thought, I’m not walking in there and looking for a seat, that’s scary and vulnerable and awkward, and so I turned to leave. And there was one man, and he followed me to the door and he said, can I help you? And I was like, oh, I see that you’re full. And he goes, I can find you a seat, would you mind waiting here, and I’ll go find you a seat. And I said, I mean, sometimes you just can’t say no to things, right? I’m like, okay. I guess I was thinking, he won’t find a seat. So he doesn’t drag me in there, he goes in, and he finds, because I know this man, I learned to love him later, he found the perfect seat for me. Who knows what he did to find that seat? He probably made someone get up and move. He comes back and he goes, I found you a seat, follow me. So now I’m following this man to a seat. I’m not having to look, be awkward, or be embarrassed that I’m late. Here’s this man walking me, he sits me and goes here you go, here’s your seat. I was like, thank you so much, and I just kind of nestled in.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:17:24] And that was the Sunday after the sermon, I don’t remember what the sermon was, but I remember at the end, I’m a sobbing mess, like, I was broken. And Becky’s husband, Jeff, was on the worship team and he looks out at the end of service and I look at him and he sees my face and I’m a mess, and I know now what he’s thinking. And I’m going, where’s Becky? And he’s on the worship team, he’s going, he’s giving directions from the stage, down the hall, go. And so I think about that first Sunday when I was a mess, and then I told Becky, I said, I think I need to have an appointment with your pastor. And she’s like, Why? I said because I don’t know why, I just think I have to have a sit-down, I don’t know why. She doesn’t say a word. Now, I told our pastor this, he goes, that’s a strong Holy Spirit because Becky does never not say anything. She didn’t talk about, do you want to talk about Jesus? She said nothing. She said nothing. She said, okay, that’s a great idea. You know, gave me the number. So I walked into my pastor’s office that Tuesday after that Sunday, and I decided the reason I was going in there to talk to him was to confess that I was a Buddhist and I probably wasn’t allowed to be there. I’m a college graduate, and I lend millions of dollars to corporations, but in the world of church, I was a baby, I knew nothing. And I remember I said, like I’m probably not allowed to be here. And, you know, if you knew that I was a Buddhist, you’d be like, oh, you don’t belong here.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:19] Like on the other team?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:19:21] Why are you here Mary Ann? And we sat and had a good long talk, about an hour, and I left accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:32] Amen.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:19:33] That was the Tuesday after the Sunday.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:36] Wow, what a story.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:19:41] It is, yeah. What a God.

Jason Hamrock: [00:19:43] Wow. Okay, so I love hearing your story, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the giftedness that God has given you and want to get into that in a minute. But this is such an important message for anybody who’s listening to this. And that is, we often, I think we make the mistake of just doing church for church people. And we have to realize, you never know who’s sitting in your worship center or your room, that’s your story. And so it’s so important, not that we have to have our A-game every single time, but we just have to be authentic be real, and recognize.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:20:24] Yes. And I would also add, because this is what happened when I started leading the ministry, and when I started working on staffing the church, who’d a thunk, is that I would start leading volunteers? And I’m sitting there, and I would tell my husband, I got remarried, I would tell my husband, I’m not supposed to do this, these people grew up in church and I didn’t. I just got my first Bible, like, you know, I kept saying, I said, I’m not qualified, I can’t do this. And of course, he just smiled and said keep going. But what I learned is we would talk about God, and I was constantly going, this is why we’re doing it, remember, not only for the Mary Anns but what I started learning was there were people who’d been to church their whole lives and they were coming to me going, I had forgotten, I had forgotten, I had forgotten. And so when our radar and our sensitivity and our focus is clearly, clearly grounded in the big why, and we are reminded with, you know, why we’re going to put that graphic, does it point to the why? Is that going to speak to someone? Is that? Then God, again, the God factor will use those things. Even a crazy song like Ancient of Days to someone like me, he will take it and say because it is done to my glory, and it’s done to honor me and because you love me, she will not be offended, and she will be curious, and she may say. But it’s okay, He goes, I don’t care. God’s like, just have her come back. You know what I mean? You just keep loving her. And I think that is one of the biggest things that I see that we take for granted, that when we’re in church or on staff, that that’s like, yeah, yeah, we got that, it’s God, we know he is. Okay, let’s talk about all the other things.

Jason Hamrock: [00:22:18] Yeah. So your ministry and your passion are really around volunteers, right? So talk to me about it, because churches it seems like that’s always a difficult thing for churches to recognize how to recruit volunteers, and how to keep volunteers. What advice do you have for them?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:22:42] I’m laughing because it is the most critical thing, and I hear church leaders complain even about, like, we can’t get them. And yet that is one of the least areas that is resourced and focused on. It’s like we’ll get a warm body for now, let’s get us through this Sunday. Right, let’s, Sally’s always here, bring Sally back in. And meanwhile, we’re killing Sally or Joe. But yet, I think of these volunteers are the people that represent the greatest treasure, the greatest thing that God wants us to steward, and that’s one another. Love God, love others, period, that’s it. It’s like these are the others, and we get caught up in…And listen, this church that I met Jesus in that was a little bit over a hundred people, grew to over 14,000 when left there in 2014. Wow. So we grew into this massive Multi-campus church, and I understand how Sundays come every week, and I understand it takes bodies and hands and feet to make things like that work. But I also saw firsthand the difference between really caring for the people, caring and seeing, that the volunteers are not there just to further your mission, the volunteers are the mission. And when we can really get that in our heads, it changes everything, it changes everything.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:24:26] And then I, you know, because again, this is what God did because I didn’t grow up in church and I didn’t know the rules, I did all the other things that people said you couldn’t do, but I didn’t know any different, and I had a really great pastor who was like, go for it, Mary Ann. And I tried things and what I learned was we have to look at who is directly in front of us, lean into them, give them a voice, and really go what works for us, for our DNA, for our church, for what God is calling us to do and don’t be afraid to try things.

Jason Hamrock: [00:25:02] Interesting. Yeah. You know, when you’re saying that, sort of a question for you, but something just comes to my mind and that is, I think often, you know, we look at ourselves and say, oh, God gave me this gift, I’m really good at this gift. And if you’re a staff person, and you’re listening to this, I think sometimes we forget that our volunteers aren’t people necessarily just people, they’re people that God gave them a gift, and so they’re trying to steward that well. If you don’t allow them to steward that well, you’re cutting off not only just the person, but you’re cutting off God from working through that person into other lives. That’s pretty heavy.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:25:43] Yes, that’s it. Where’s my ding bell?

Jason Hamrock: [00:25:47] Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:25:48] I actually used a ding bell in my ministry, especially with my leaders, and when we would have these moments, people would jump up and ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, because we have to really hit it home. And I believe we should have fun in church, too, by the way. But I think we are hogging all the good stuff. Like, look, I think one of the biggest things, I talked to a pastor recently and he was asking about, you know, time management. And what it really boiled down to was he wasn’t willing to let go of anything.

Jason Hamrock: [00:26:31] Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:26:31] And it either has to be, particularly in production, perfect, or my way. And I’m that girl, too, and I learned the hard way through getting shingles and pinkeye at the same time, at a very younger age. And I remember thinking, I thought only old people got shingles. But it was bad and our volunteer team had grown to 200, and it was ugly, and I was thinking I still had to do everything. And I remember, you know, through some of this, whoa, Mary Ann, what’s God trying to tell you? And just as Jethro told Moses, this thing you’re doing is not good, it’s going to wear you out. Well, check for Mary Ann, shingles, pink eye, and then it will wear them out. And I’m like, yeah, people were like, oh, she’s too busy for us; oh, she’s this, and it was not pretty. And that was a wake-up call for me that something had to change. And when I started building a real intentional leadership path, what it really boiled down to is for me taking someone and saying, okay, I would love for you to lead these ten people, but, okay, so it’s not about posting and scheduling. Like, do you know them?

Jason Hamrock: [00:27:51] Yeah.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:27:52] Like will you really love them, or only on Sunday? Like I’m not kidding, if we have someone, a volunteer, raise their hand and say, I’ll show up at zero dark 30 on a Sunday, or I’ll show up, and we don’t treasure that opportunity to minister to them, to disciple them. Look, y’all, it’s really a discipleship opportunity.

Bart Blair: [00:28:19] You know, you say that, my first full-time ministry role was as a worship pastor and a creative arts director in a church. And I transitioned from a corporate job where I was in middle management in a very large company, and I’d had a staff of people who showed up and worked 45 to 50 hours a week for a good paycheck and earned bonuses, and they sat in their cubicles and stared at their computers and sat on their phones and did the things that I expected them to do because it was their job. And then I transitioned out of the corporate world into my first ministry job, and I, as a volunteer in my church, I mean, the church hired me because I was a high-capacity volunteer. I was doing a lot, I was serving a lot, and they just decided they wanted all of my time instead of just some of my time. But I had this natural assumption that everyone was going to serve at the same level that I had always served and that they were going to work the same way all my paid staff at my previous job had, and all I had to do was just put them on the schedule and they were going to show up and do what I asked them to do. And I oversaw the worship team, and the Creative Arts Ministry, I oversaw all of our first impressions and hospitality. And I learned in my first probably year to year and a half, my first 18 months, that I was a terrible leader because people resented me, because I was putting too much emphasis on the production and not enough emphasis on the people, and I needed to put people before the production. And you in what you just shared just now, I just flashed back 20 odd years in a moment of conviction where I realized I just wasn’t. Yeah, I’m talking about we were a portable church for nine, ten years if you want to talk about people showing up at O dark 30 to unload a trailer and to set up band equipment and to haul out all the stuff. And you know, I would like to think that over the last 20-plus years, I’ve grown in some maturity and some awareness, and I lead better. But yeah, it was a hard lesson for me to learn, I’m glad that God allowed me to learn it early. And boy, if we can help other leaders learn that same lesson a lot easier than I did, that would be awesome.

Jason Hamrock: [00:30:39] So what are some of the misconceptions that churches or church leaders have on how to, you know, effectively lead or manage volunteers? What are mistakes or misconceptions?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:30:52] I don’t think they think of it, they may say the words lead volunteers, I think it’s more scheduling and managing and let it go. And then, under the pretense or the idea, or the hope and desire that were leading a team. What I’ve noticed is that there really aren’t very many real teams out there, they’re just pools of people. And when we moved and I started serving at a church, they’re like, you’re going to join a team? And I’m like, okay, I’m in. And I realized this is not a team, this is not a team.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:31:30] And I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Text In Church, and their Engaged Conference. But I did a talk on it recently that talked about a real team versus a pool of people and it makes a difference, and again it’s about knowing your people. And so I think the misconception with volunteers is we’re typically looking at a spreadsheet or a document and we’re just trying to fill in the spaces, we need someone to hold the baby, we need someone to run the camera, we need five people here, and we stop there a lot of times just because. Like with you, Bart, you were saying that you were having to do all these jobs, that blows my mind, you know, it’s like that’s not fair to you, much less the people that you are supposed to be pouring into and caring for. It’s impossible, you just can’t do it, there are too many different directions you’re going in. So I had to say no to my pastor a lot, my job at the time was over volunteers, anything to do with hospitality, coffee, ushers, and parking, we had over a thousand volunteers. And so I would have to go to the well whenever there were extra events or things because our team, they were awesome, these people, they were crazy, I couldn’t keep them out the door. So it was my job to be the voice for them. Like I would give them a voice, and there’s a whole thing about debriefs and do your volunteers have a voice? And I had to really know what was going on through their leaders, I can’t know a thousand people, but I can know 12 directors, and the 12 directors have been responsible to talk to all their team leaders. And together they come to me and I’m like, okay, we have some hard decisions to make. And I would say, that’s a great idea, but I’m going to say no to that because we’ve got this and this and this, and I must protect the people. And I was willing to take all the slings and arrows because it was more important that I was stewarding the people who were raising their hands and coming in and giving their all, people like what you were saying, they had jobs that were working, caring for parents, like there are just so many other things happening that I constantly talked about and shared and made everyone be aware of so that no one would forget that the person standing next to you is a child of God. The person standing next to you that you’re serving may need to be relieved and you may need to go over there and pray with them and y’all just go to church and not worry about it, God’s bigger than you and I standing here at this church today.

Jason Hamrock: [00:34:14] So give me one takeaway for our audience, and some of them are leading a few volunteers, to some lead a lot of volunteers. Give me one takeaway on what they should do to help create a, I guess, a culture of not just, you know, filling out the sheet to make sure everybody’s serving this weekend but, you know, building a relationship or something like that. What’s the takeaway that they should do?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:34:38] Oh, that’s too hard.

Jason Hamrock: [00:34:42] Where do we start? Give us one.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:34:44] I mean, everyone wants, give me the magic pill. Give me the magic thing. I do have, maybe it’s not the magic, but a simple thing, let’s do that. When I think back at 200 for me, and I had to figure out, oh, no, I don’t know what I’m doing. Then we can even back up, even before then, we were building a new building and we had, I knew I was getting involved in some things with the church, with volunteers, because our building we were building was almost finished. So I did then what I would say I did when we got to 200, as I looked around the church and I said, who are the key volunteers? Who are the ones that show up, and have a kind heart? Eventually, we came to two words, are they coachable and are they approachable? Will they take feedback? Will they ask for feedback and really want it? So I gathered like five people in a room between one of the services, and I just stood in front of them and said, this isn’t my ministry, this isn’t just my church, this is our church. And we have a situation or a dilemma or a roadblock or whatever it may be, or a season, what do you all think? And then shut up, like, get in front of a whiteboard, get a pad, and let them tell you. Now, it may take some time and convincing by you sitting there not saying anything for a while because they’re used to church staff people talking to them. And this is not a complaint session, this is not that, but when you present it in a very mature, loving way, every single time I got met with mature, loving responses, every time. And these people now have buy-in, you’re hearing things, you’re hearing the other perspective, and then you’re getting the solutions that they want to implement. And together, we tweak it and we constantly look at on the battlefield on a Sunday and we look across the aisles and we’re going, we got this right. Like, this is what we agreed on, oh, we need a debrief.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:37:02] So I would just say the first thing is to gather your one or 2 or 3 people, whatever, and get in a room and get serious and be vulnerable. Like y’all, in the South, this is hard, or we’re dropping the ball, or are we dropping the ball? Like, what do you notice that makes you cringe? What is it that’s keeping you from inviting your friends and your neighbor and your coworker or your family member? Like, who are we not reaching? Why are we not reaching them? And just whiteboard it, and just start that process? Because when people really believe, because you have smart people in your church that they can have this ownership, that you’re going to really allow them and want them and invite them into the conversation, man, you start the foundation. That’s what Jesus did, he invited these guys and said, so tell me, how are you doing? Even though he knew, right?

Jason Hamrock: [00:38:03] Yep, yep. All right, that’s amazing advice, and if we could just start there, I think we’re going to be in good shape. Well, cool. We probably should wind this down. How can we, because I’m sure there are some people that would be going, how do I get a hold of Mary Ann? I’d love to connect with her. Especially, you’re available, like, you want to talk with people that maybe have some questions or need some advice. So how can people get a hold of you?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:38:29] Well, my name is my website You can click there, and I have contact information. Or you can email me at And I always offer a free consult, like, I just want to talk to church leaders. Like I’m happy to brainstorm with you and see, you know, where are some areas that maybe can help first steps to focus.

Bart Blair: [00:38:55] Generally speaking, Mary Ann, when you’re engaging with churches, what are some of the primary things that you’re helping them work through?

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:39:04] Two things, sometimes it’s leadership coaching, and I find particularly pastors have a lot of resources for mentors and coaching, but there’s that next layer of ministry leaders that sometimes doesn’t believe they can have it and it’s not accessed. So that’s kind of where I love to be and I land, so I do a lot of leadership coaching and because I’ve been on church staff, I understand, and it’s a safe place. So we coach some leadership best practices. And in the realm of volunteers, I help them with, I do onsite, like, they call it secret worshiping, but I come on-site just like I did when I was a 40-year-old Buddhist walking into your church and just looking at everything and giving some eyes and ears and feedback. And sitting, what I love to do is at the end of that Sunday, I sit with their key people, they can invite anyone they want to the debrief meeting with me and the pastors, and we sit and we talk about what I saw, what they think. And then from there, we can decide where the focus needs to be with helping volunteers. What is a real team? How do you build a leader? How do you find a leader? How do you fire a volunteer? Like what’s a healthy rhythm for your volunteers to serve? All that.

Bart Blair: [00:40:23] Excellent, super helpful. So if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re interested in having a 41-year-old former Buddhist, come and visit your church, you like that? I’m your new best friend, aren’t you? You can call Mary Ann, and she will come and hook you up. Jason, any parting shots from you before we wrap things up today?

Jason Hamrock: [00:40:42] No. I just, I love your story, and it just encourages me that I hear your story and know that people at my church have the same story. And I have to be mindful, and my eyes open about how to engage people that I interact with and make sure I invite them to church and just love on people because that’s what we’re called to do, not judge, you know, not advise, just love on them and invite them to church.

Mary Ann Sibley: [00:40:42] Yes, amen.

Bart Blair: [00:41:08] If you’re a follower of Jesus and you listen to this podcast and you have a riding lawn mower and you have neighbors that don’t, be a good neighbor and lend them your rider or go and mow their lawn for them, that’s my key takeaway. Hey, Mary Ann, thank you so much for hanging out with us today. Those of you who are listening to this podcast are watching on our YouTube channel, we appreciate you giving your time to us. We know you have lots of choices about the podcast that you listen to, and the fact that you let us invade your ear space for a little while means a ton. If you haven’t subscribed or left us a review, wherever you listen or watch the podcast, make sure that you do that. And until next time, on behalf of Jason and Mary Ann, we’re out of here.

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