It’s National Volunteer Week.
I am grateful and comforted by community volunteering. I can call the SES if winds damage my house. Volunteer coaches help my kids at sport. Dedicated locals provide food and a friendly face to those in need. People go into classrooms to assist those troubled in reading. The list of volunteering positions is endless.
It’s great to say thanks to generous volunteers.
Churches are places of some of the most intense volunteering. Paid ministers get ‘seen’, but the hugest effort is voluntary: praying, visiting, feeding, setting up, administering, teaching, singing, encouraging, inviting … Thank you to all faithful volunteers. And thanks to God who equips and strengthens all his servants.
But there’s danger. Christian ministry has to be careful not to adopt all the practices of National Volunteer Week.
In particular, we should be wary of what heaps of volunteers say when pushed in front of a microphone. Again and again people urge us to volunteer because, ‘You will gain so much from the experience.’ The message? Volunteer because you will benefit: fun, friends, skill development, teamwork, contacts, meaning, and purpose. All these will be yours! Who knows where volunteering will take you?
If this were to become a common Christian way of motivating volunteers, then we will have stopped being Christian.
The gospel message is of grace, freely given. God’s gift is not a purchase or transaction for mutual benefit – it’s all of him. Grace is not the same as making a bank deposit – allowing the bank our money for a while so we can gain interest.
Jesus said, ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). Current inspiration to volunteer communicates, ‘If you give a bit you’ll receive heaps.’ There’s a world of difference between these two ways. The first is gospel, for it lives out grace. The second is essentially selfish.
If you are a Christian volunteer, and if you invite others to volunteer, make it gospel-shaped volunteering: give without seeking a return, give love to others freely and abundantly.