A while back, some friends shared a story about how they'd led an area of children's ministry for years and had been thanked a total of two maybe three times. They felt "burnt out" -- common language in volunteer world --and their emotional tank was running on empty because of it. A people-pleaser by nature especially as a child, many stories flooded to my brain about teachers I'd worked hard for without a thank-you, underappreciative bosses, and small jobs accomplished with no kind words.
I remember first becoming aware of this dynamic at a church I volunteered at for a number of years. If we succeeded in our intended goals, the sentiment from the leader was noticeably, "Great job!" not "Thank you!" The assumption on the leaders' part was that volunteers wanted to be there because 1) they loved doing a given position 2) they had some sort of clear picture or "vision" about what to work towards... succeeding meant a "high five" was more appropriate than "thanks!" It struck me for the first time that volunteers weren't helping fulfill someone else's vision in order to be good people (which would, in fact, mean a "thank you!" is needed). Rather, we were working towards a common goal together. We still had a clear leadership structure, but the vision wasn't owned by only a few. I'd never experienced that before. And it was painful! At first I grew resentful at various leaders... "How could you be so callous?? You don't thank any of us for all the hard work we do! Either you don't SEE it, which makes you blind, or you're choosing to ignore it, which makes you a jerk."
I really liked other aspects of the church, and by that time I'd made a number of close friends volunteering. And I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else, so for whatever reason I stayed, and stayed. And stayed. I asked (complained to?) God constantly about this one. It just didn't seem fair for those of us doing all the legwork to get no complimentary compensation. And the more I went to God with this, the more I felt like God would stare back at me with a giant hand and pat me on the back. "Way to go!" he'd say. This became our routine. The more I did this, the more God was able to meet that need.
I don't have much to recommend young leaders as I still am a young leader. But if I had to choose one, this would be pretty close to the top: start immediately getting your need for affirmation met by God alone. The reason is because of the stakes of what we do. What amount of pats on the back can compensate for influencing another human towards a positive life change? My model for this is Jesus on the cross. Can you imagine if while hanging there, battered and bloody and running out of air, Jesus looked into the heavens and screamed, "Did you catch the irony here, Lord? The very people I'm dying for didn't even THANK me for doing this!" Seems a little out of place.
A better alternative: volunteering out of a sense of agreement, excitement, or connection with the stated vision of a particular ministry. Funnily enough for me, I actually started volunteering out of a sense of duty; I signed a "membership covenant" with this particular church and had agreed to volunteer, even though I didn't really want to. But after a while and integrating with some other volunteers and leaders, I grew to really like it. So there's no one way to do it, but I'm sold that over the long run, connecting with a vision that excites you (read: with God's help & direction) is worth a few hours every month. I just am not able to do something out of a sense of duty for years upon years - I'd rather spend some time searching for a vision that motivates me, and gladly hop on board. Or even start my own venture! It's helped me to see the power of a collective effort. It's helped me to make friends. It's helped me to befriend people with backgrounds much different than my own. Perhaps the biggest: it's helped me to get my "well done"s from God alone.
It's helped me to understand what one pastor I served under said (from the pulpit!), "If you are excited about what we're doing here at this church, don't thank me. JOIN me."
In church, what would things be like if we didn't need to hear another thank-you again... ever? What if the deepest nooks and crannies of our souls were filled with satisfaction that came right from God? Perhaps a better title for this would be "redirecting" our need for affirmation.