Within the last few years, I’ve noticed a deeply unsettling perspective among the Christian community about volunteering. It’s not really new, I suppose. But it’s getting tired, and it’s time to be addressed.
As Christians, everything we do either works toward spreading the gospel, or works against spreading the gospel. We are called to expand the worldwide church. This is where our spiritual gifts come in to help us to do just that.
There are those who know how to use their gifts to best help expand the church, and others are still figuring out how. And that’s fine.
But what isn’t fine—and this is where the unsettling perspective comes in—is when we (dis)qualify people based on how active we think they are in the church.
I see it all the time, especially in bigger churches where teams of volunteers exist, like a “prayer team”, “worship team”, “greeting team”, etc. I know that behind it all, the intent is good. We want to promote and encourage good works in the church, and so we encourage others to do so. We nudge people into volunteering their time and resources to keep the church going. But sometimes this encouragement turns into pressuring others into doing more than they are able.
One week I met a young woman who was dropping in on a church service, and is very active in her home church. She expressed to me how great it is to have a moment to allow herself to worship, instead of needing to be actively helping others. I understood her immediately, because that’s how I felt when I first attended that church. It was my breath of fresh air, too.
But as I became a “regular” of this church, I noticed that the friends of mine who became volunteers, had expectations placed on them to volunteer a lot of weekly time. While I’ve hmmed and hahed about volunteering there, I both don’t really have the extra time on a regular basis, nor has anything convicted me enough to sign up. On the flip side, there’s been a huge push for volunteers because the church wants to grow.
Churches need volunteers in order to run. This is a fact.
In my home church, I’ve given my time to help keep the church moving. I’ve been a server for the Anglican church, a Synod Youth Representative, Sunday school teacher, and a dedicated church choir member. Each one of these commitments was something I felt strongly enough to say yes to without hesitation. Most of these things were weekly commitments, and never had anyone question my time given to the church.
But in starting my M.A., I realized that my time for weekly commitments was limited. So instead, I chose to volunteer my time to coordinate an annual church campground weekend retreat for young adults. This is a ministry that is near and dear to my heart, at a campground where I have seen God move. The retreat needed a leader, and I stepped into the role because I felt God’s prompting.
But unlike before, I realized my commitment to the church may not have been seen as enough. A few friends of mine had asked how I contributed to the church (the universal church), even though they hadn’t before. Despite not meaning anything by it and fully supporting my own ministry, it made me think.
I wondered how I might have taken that question in a different context, or how I may have responded if I were a new believer, or even a skeptic. How many times have we gently pressured a newcomer into volunteering? I know I have.
I want to make clear that this post isn’t about me. I’m giving my experiences, simply because they are the ones I know. But does anyone see the problem here? We shouldn’t be placing values on people based on their time spent volunteering. As young adults, we need to be mindful of what is asked of our time, and where we spend it. Conversely, we need to be mindful of what we ask of other people’s time.
Despite having graduated, I’ve realized that I, just as many people do, have the tendency to overfill their plate. I’ve also realized that because of this, I should only say “yes” to things that excite me. I put limits on myself because I know I can easily burn myself out from volunteering for too many things. I have been through the burnout, and I’ve been recovering. And I think that a lot of young people in the church are still recovering, too.
I have friends right now that take on too much at a time. This isn’t healthy behaviour. I also have friends who have felt pressured by their peers, and it’s pushing them away from the church. This is concerning.
You don’t need to be a member of a “greeting team” to be a volunteer. Much of a church’s function is based on your attendance and making connections and relationships with the people around you. Your drive to help the universal church grow should be what encourages you to take on a role; not feeling pressured into it by peers.
We make the most progress when we choose roles that exercise our spiritual gifts. So think about the roles you’re taking on, think about your strengths, and be realistic about how much time you can volunteer each week.
I pray that one day volunteers in the church will be plentiful and volunteering their time not out of peer pressure, but out of their passion for Christ, just as in Exodus. People gave their time, resources, and gave freewill offerings, and it resulted in everyone having far more than what was needed.
Exodus 35:25–29, 36:3–7
25 Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun—blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen.26 And all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair.27 The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.28 They also brought spices and olive oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense.29 All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lordfreewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.
3 They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. 4 So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.”6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.
This is what volunteering should be like. We must give freely and wholeheartedly, otherwise we must ask the question: Is it really giving at all?
NOTE: This post has been edited as per to some extra insight given shortly after posting.