So the new year is well on its way. How are your resolutions going? Ooh is it too soon? Ask you in a week when you try again? Okay maybe I’ll do that.
Many people start off the new year with personal and often, may I say, self-centered resolutions. It usually begins with an internal diagnosis of our lives in which we realize the truth that we all somehow are falling short in our responsibilities to ourselves. We then submit to a ridiculous amount of self-imposed pressure to fix 35 years of bad habits in a week. Then we fail, landing in miserable miserableness. For me, it looks like that 300 miles I am supposed to run this year may not work out. It is day 21 and I have run 2. At that rate I might make it to 35 miles. That would still be good, right? “Aim for the stars and land among the clouds,” they say. From my experience it is more like “aim for the track and land on the couch.” With pizza. And cookies. Man a cookie sounds good right now.
We all know it is important to take care of ourselves. But we shouldn’t stop there. I’m sure many of you thought of serving your fellow human beings this year and I commend you for that. For years I have been a volunteer and overseen volunteers in church. In that time I have made many, many mistakes. I’ve also witnessed others struggle and end up burning out. I don’t want those experiences to be yours, so here are eight things I learned the hard way that you can use in your service of others. I promise they will make you a better volunteer.
Note: Most of this is relates to serving in the church, but the principles apply to all volunteers.
Sometimes when we decide to volunteer or serve in some meaningful way, we have trouble getting started. Maybe it’s because you are trying to answer the question, “who do I help?” or “how do I help?” The answer is easy: find the needs and fill them. Be observant. Do you notice the nursery workers after church with unusual stains on their clothing or offensive smells coming off of them? Is there chaos in the youth room because the one “adult” there is fighting the students over the video game controller? Does your pastor have dark circles under his eyes because he had to get up at dawn to get the church “ready for service?” Are your church restrooms filthy? See? There are plenty of ways to serve!
Now you might say, “Well that’s not my idea of a good time.” True. And I could drop a Jesus bomb on you right now but I won’t. However, volunteering is an unglamorous thing. There is no glory in it (here and now) and that’s okay. If that’s not okay with you, then please don’t start.
You might also say, “I want to serve in my spiritual gifts.” Great! But before you do that, you should be able to demonstrate that you are a servant and a servant doesn’t always choose how he or she will serve. In fact, I am of the opinion that no pastor should enter the pulpit who isn’t first willing to clean the toilets. Plungers before preaching I say.
Your spiritual gifts are important, but don’t let them limit how or where you serve. Only moving vehicles can be steered. Get started and see where God steers you from there.
Do not overcommit yourself
This is a big one. Once you start serving in the church what happens is your name is put on “the list.” This isn’t an official list, but you are now a part of the 20%. It is generally stated that 20% of people do 80% of the serving in the church. Of course this means 80% are attenders only. So once you are on “the list” you will be asked to do more and more. Take it as a compliment, but don’t let serving overtake you to the point you become bitter or resentful. Give of yourself cheerfully and generously, but not out of compulsion.
Don’t hold back from what God has asked you to do, but don’t overcommit from feelings of guilt or the need to be needed. The sovereign plan of God will not be thwarted if you don’t do that one extra thing.
Be on time
We all have that one person in our lives that we consistently lie to. We tell them the birthday party starts at 12:30 when it actually starts at 2:00 just so they will be there on time. Don’t make people lie to you. It’s a simple thing really. If you commit to being somewhere, then be there on time. Others are counting on you to bear the burden of this important work along with them, and that work begins at a certain time.
Don’t be so needy
Good job. Thank you. Okay that should be enough to last you another year or two. I get that we all want to be appreciated and those in leadership need to do a better job of expressing appreciation to volunteers. Often leaders are bombarded with so much to do and so much responsibility that they either forget to say thank you, or they just don’t have the energy or motivation to do it on a regular basis. Please don’t hold it against them. They are fallible and weak just like everyone else. And the truth is, they probably receive little to no affirmation from anyone for what they do. Sure, they might get paid to be in ministry (probably peanuts), but they don’t do it for the money. They do it to satisfy God’s calling on their lives. They want to please One. As long as they know that He is pleased, that is motivation enough to continue in the good works He has prepared for them to do.
As a volunteer, your attitude should be the same. In fact, you should probably do more to appreciate the leaders who oversee your work. They love you and care for you and I am sure it would go a long way with them. And it would set an example for them without expecting anything in return.
I’ve got an 11 pound chihuahua named Charlie (he actually has over a hundred nicknames but this is the one his mother gave him). He is really light on his feet and very athletic even though he is over 12 years old, but when he gets tired he is like a limp noodle. He becomes dead weight and when I pick him up its like he is 25 pounds. Fortunately I am very, very strong and can lift over 25 pounds (tickets to the gun show anyone?). We all know it is harder to move dead weight. Remember the movie Weekend at Bernie’s? That’s what if feels like when volunteers are not self-motivated.
Don’t be dead weight. Look for opportunities to get ahead of the game. Anticipate your leader’s next move and be ready when he or she makes it. Bring new ideas to the table and be ready to implement them yourself. Don’t wait to be told to do something. Learn what needs to be done and quietly do it. Your leaders and your team will be inspired by this well-oiled machine you are helping create.
Maybe you are not the leader of a ministry. Maybe you are not in a position of authority. Don’t let that stop you from inspiring others. Even those in the lowest of positions can inspire growth and change in those around them. Be a cheerleader, an encourager, a lifter of spirits. Build people up with your words and actions. Help others see the importance of the work you are all doing and those you are serving. Help them to see the greatness of Jesus in whose Name you are serving.
People forget why ministry happens. They forget that ministry exists to glorify God, make Him known, and see Him rule as Lord over all. “Thy kingdom come” is what we pray for. Don’t let the big things get lost in the mundane tasks of ministry. Be the one who reminds everyone else why we do what we do.
This is hard for even pastors to do. There are good reasons to leave a church or ministry, and there are not so good reasons. TGC has an excellent article on this subject, but for the most part you should stick around. Longevity brings a sense of stability not only for yourself, but for those you serve. It demonstrates your commitment to them, to your leaders and to The Lord.
It is difficult for ministries to come by volunteers who will be around long-term. Things are always changing in ministry and in people’s lives. We live in a culture that devalues commitment. We want to keep our options open at all times. Families “church-shop” every Sunday but never find what they are looking for. They don’t stick around long enough to connect to the community and establish relationships and roots. It’s sad really.
Don’t be those people. Be someone others can count on; someone they can set their clocks to because of your reliability. The church needs more people like that, and it is greatly satisfying to be that person.
Let love be your motivation
Christians can sometimes lose sight of their motivation for serving others. They might think it earns them gold stars in heaven, or even that it will help them get there. This is a terrible (and damnable) heresy! Christians do not work for our salvation. We work because of it, or in response to it. We were saved by grace and are now able to do what God has created us to do and walk in the work He has prepared for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10). Our motivation to serve is the love we have for God because of His grace toward us, and the love we have for our neighbors because they were created in God’s own image.
Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). He knew that serving and doing good deeds (good deed doers?) out of obligation was not something that would last. And obligation is for the most part a terrible motive in and of itself. God wants us to cultivate love in our hearts and it starts with His love for us. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” Isn’t that true? We love because He loved us. Love started in heaven and poured down on God’s creation. In response, we love each other and God. Love comes from heaven and returns to heaven. It’s awesome when you see this in real life, and even awesomer (okay, more awesome) when you experience it on a regular basis. So let love be your motivation and nothing else.
Well, there’s eight things. Can you think of any others? What are some that you need to work on? Let me know in the comments below.