When you hear those words, if you can’t wait to respond—you’re an anomaly and this isn't for you. The rest of us, though, typically don't like volunteering. We cringe when we hear those three little words. Our minds go to our calendars first because that’s the easy way out. “What do I already have that day,” we ask ourselves as we search for an excuse. Once we realize the calendar is clear, we’ll settle for anything! “That’s not really my thing.” “I’ve had a long week so I’m just going to rest.” Or the best one, “God hasn’t called me to do that.”
Of course I don't do that, and you don’t either I’m sure. But some of us do. In fact, over 75% of us do, according to the most recent (September, 2015) data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; less than 25% of Americans give unpaid (volunteer) service to any organization. So during National Volunteer Week this year (April 23-29), our country celebrates the sacrificial service of volunteers everywhere—even though they only make up about a quarter of the population.
On the brighter side, within the church those numbers are usually not as low; they can’t afford to be for churches with much organized programming. In fact, according to our own analysis for our Annual Report last November, the number of people who volunteer in ministry at my church is closer to 40%! The old 80/20 rule (80% of the work is done by 20% of the people) doesn’t seem to apply here—and that’s something to celebrate. But we still have reason to pause. What about the other 60%? Why aren't they volunteering? I think there may be a few reasons besides simple busy-ness.
Maybe we, as pastors and teachers, have made a poor connection between volunteering andservice within the Body of Christ. While serving the Lord is not synonymous with volunteering in a local church, it’s at least something for Christians to consider. Think about it—if only 40% of my body is working, I’m in pretty bad shape. To be healthy, I need my whole body working! That’s an interesting thought when one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite metaphors for the church is a body; he uses it extensively in 1 Corinthians 12, as well as many other places in the New Testament. We all do different things and have different gifts, but we all work together for the health and sake of the whole. In other words, for the Body of Christ to be as healthy as it can be, it’s essential that everyone do their unique part.
But what if people don't know their unique part? What if more Christians don't volunteer in the church because they think they have nothing to offer? Perhaps church leaders haven’t properly led people to understand how God created every one of them with gifts and abilities and talents that can (and should!) be used for God’s glory. Sometimes it’s easy to connect our abilities to volunteer opportunities: if someone is a good teacher, singer, musician, or handyman, we can all think of easy ways to use those abilities. But what if someone is none of those things? What if you're just a great people person? Well, use that to make a good impression on new people to the church! What if you’re a talented artist? Use that to help design teaching or promotional materials. What if you’re a detail person or a great event organizer? Use that to help coordinate ministry events so they run more smoothly. Or, what if you’re quirky and obsessive compulsive like I am? Use that to do a little bit of everything since it’s impossible to ignore anything!
Perhaps worst of all, maybe more people don't volunteer because we simply haven't communi-cated the best purpose for serving. No, it’s not because you have to in order to be good enough for Jesus, or even because he needs you. It’s not to impress other people, and it’s not in order to belong. We know the first two from the Bible, and the other two from experience; acceptance and belonging are powerful motivators, but they usually don't win against our own selfish desires. But there is one thing that’s stronger than self-preservation, and it does motivate us to serve. There is one thing that’s more powerful than our laziness, and it compels us to volunteer where and when we can: Christ-like love. Serving as an expression of Christ-like love is satisfying and even joy-giving! It’s an easy yoke. It’s the only real purpose to volunteer at all. To serve. To love. Because after all, we want to be like Jesus. And he didn’t come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).
Think about the last time you volunteered for something begrudgingly. How was your attitude? Did it fill you with joy or bitterness?
Contrast that with the last time you volunteered to do something you enjoy, or you’re really good at. How was your attitude that time? When you finished, were you encouraged or discouraged?
What gift or ability has God given you that’s not being used for him right now? Is there a place inyour community or in the church where your talents or personality could be used for God’s glory?
For further reflection, read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.