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The Transformational Power of Volunteerism

We are built for belonging, and created for community. It’s in our DNA to carry the load, to work hard, to contribute. We are crafted in the image and likeness of God—a God who delights in being creative in His approach to meeting needs and answering prayers. He has designed us to work together.

He doesn’t twist our arms or shame us into joining Him in serving others. In fact, He doesn’t even obligate us or pressure us into saying “yes” to Christianity. That’s the unique beauty of our faith.

It’s founded on the transformational power of volunteerism.

God invites us, teaches us, encourages us, equips us, walks with us, and reinforces His great love through us as we serve Him and others by saying “yes.”

The early Church was a volunteer-powered ministry. Acts 2 paints a beautiful picture of its formation:

They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together.

Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

“They were like family to each other.” What a powerful image of what happens when we serve each other well. It’s what we hope daily for our local churches to be—a safe refuge and a welcoming family.

So often these days, we struggle with volunteerism in our congregations. A relative few folks say “yes,” and even fewer remain committed. We as leaders hear all the reasons cited why volunteerism is a struggle. “No one has time these days,” or “People just aren’t as sold out to Christ as they used to be” are often high on the list. In our scramble to come up with solutions to the problem of volunteerism, we often come up with new volunteer opportunities that require less commitment, or we remove the need for those volunteers to participate at all by automating, hiring more staff, or relegating ministries to online spaces and brochures. If we are not careful, we diminish the very power of volunteerism by reducing it to “unpaid labor.”

Remember the words, “They were like family to each other.”

Carey Nieuwhof writes about the reasons high-capacity volunteers step away from the church. I’ve written about the Easter crisis that equipped volunteers to lead at my own church. Rather than looking at the continued challenges, what if we returned to the ways God compels us to each say “yes” to being part of His family.

Remember. He doesn’t obligate us. He doesn’t shame us.

He invites—so we invite.

Let’s extend the invitation to serve each other through volunteerism, rather than creating opportunities to simply be “the help.” Let’s share the benefits of being family to each other—whether that’s making sure the sound and lighting in a worship service are welcoming or being a trusted friend to a teen.

He encourages—so we encourage.

Let’s not create or define volunteerism opportunities based on “cost of entry,” but treat each volunteer as inherently valuable to the Kingdom. Let’s be careful to not elevate roles, but in our words and actions teach that all have an important place and purpose. And if we can’t easily articulate the purpose of the volunteerism we are asking others to participate in, let’s be unafraid to ask ourselves the hard questions about our own motives—are we engaging our volunteers for our own benefit, or are we providing ways for people to be like family to each other?

He teaches—so we teach.

Let’s provide clarity as to the purpose of volunteerism—both practically and spiritually. Let’s make sure the work being done is truly meaningful and purposeful—let’s trust our volunteers to labor well.

He equips—so we equip.

Let’s make sure those we ask to serve are given what they need to serve well—including the ability to make decisions.

He walks with us—so we walk with those who serve.

Let’s stay on the journey with our volunteers. Let’s serve beside them, listen to and learn from them, break bread with them, invite them to share their ideas, their concerns, their fears. Let’s be the first to pray with them and for them. Let’s be accessible and attentive, flexible and faithful.

He reinforces His great love through us—and we tell the story.

We are built for belonging, and we are created for community. As leaders, let’s create a place for our volunteers where we can be like family to each other—so together we can be like family to all.

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