Volunteer Culture in Church?

I sat down to lunch yesterday with a group of women and one man. The table was spread with a pink tablecloth and flowers, in vases and on the plate pattern, and had my lunch served to me by ladies with more impressive titles than my own. Delicious soup, sandwiches, brownies and cookies made a tasty menu while I listened to comments by our pastor on the importance of what we 9 seated there, and one not in attendance were offering the church. It was beautiful and it was so sweet, it was a kindness to my heart which was a little weary yesterday, but it wasn’t the reward.

The look on the faces of the women who created and carried out that meal spoke very plainly about the blessing of service. When the story is shared of Jesus washing the disciples feet, the importance of servant leadership is emphasized, the concept of humility and lowering oneself to the most menial and base tasks to care for others applauded and we see how we should model ourselves to serve others. However, I think many times we imagine Jesus’s face to be serious, to be focused on the task, to be brow-furrowed and concentrated. Yesterday I could see the face of Jesus in that story, and saw those he knelt before laugh as there was a ticklish spot and heard Jesus laugh, too. I can hear the men shake off their uneasiness with the situation with jokes about strap tan lines. I could feel the connection deepen between the disciples and the master in a way that cannot be built by them humbling themselves in front of him, but only by being noticed, cared for and touched by the One whom they noticed, worked to care for and would meet the physical need of without hesitation.

I wasn’t there when Jesus humbled himself that day. I can’t say any more than the next person what the tone of that moment was, but I like to imagine a laughing Jesus who shows not only the great importance of servant leadership, but also the deep joy and reward of it.

I am lucky to be in a place to say yes to things right now and as such I’ve found myself organizing, answering phones, stuffing snack bags, painting, learning an online scheduling program, and sitting next to some rowdy boys.

Years ago, my brother pointed out to me, if every parent who used the nursery put their name down to volunteer, each parent would only need to be called on probably once every 6 months. It’s not about having some deep passion for changing a diaper. It’s about stepping up and doing your part, particularly as a parent who benefits from this service each Sunday. This is what brought me months ago to put my name down to serve in Children’s Church. I only serve one Sunday a month, and it is a little effort to encourage them to listen and be calm sometimes, or to sing and dance with them so they can burn out a little energy when they can. But each time I’m there I see children who recognize and are happy to see me, high five me and want to do the Power Shuffle with me. Each time I watch one boy in particular work against the wiring in his body to suck in the message, one that he is so thirsty for, probably more so in love with the word of God than 20 other children who don’t struggle to sit still.

After a few months of serving in children’s church, our pastor took time in the service to recognize it’s volunteer culture and I was impressed by just how many people do serve in one place or another, or those who serve in multiple areas. I thought surely this church doesn’t struggle with the 80/20 problem, most churches in America face currently, that 80% of members in any given church are either inactive or not serving their church while 20% of the members carry the load of the work. Someone has since told me that it is still probably close to that range for our church as well, maybe a little better, but still the majority attends but doesn’t serve.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are those of us who are called to fill our serving hours outside of the church. Coaching a team or caring for a sick family member or neighbor. We aren’t all called to be spending day in and day out folding bulletins. If you are called to service elsewhere, serve where you are called. But there are those of us who have the schedule that permits us to ask “What can I do?” and if you have that availability, don’t wait for sky writing or a burning bush. God is not going to create and avalanche to fall in front of you and have the stones fall into letter formations that read “I, God, am asking you, ___insertnamehere___ to go to church and serve.” He’s just going to use someone else who already showed up and bless them richly for it. God will not miss out, you will. If you are able to serve and aren’t serving somewhere, then go. Ask what needs to be done and then do it.

Don’t expect that the answer is going to be “Well, we need someone to give the sermon this weekend and tell all the people the way you think things should be interpreted and done.” It’s most likely that what is needed is going to be foot washing. It’s not going to be glorious and there won’t be a parade afterwards telling you that you are probably the best and most exalted pedicurist that has ever existed. But if you look up from the bowl you’re using to clean those dusty, dirty feet, you’re likely to see the joy filled chuckling face of God.

Each time I have walked through the doors to serve, I have walked out blessed by conversation, or by quiet, restored to be a happier and better me. A better me is a better mom and a better wife. This blesses my kids and my husband and they in turn are better thems and better the world as they impact it. As I am restored, I see that my reward for stuffing Easter eggs, or organizing a closet or painting a set is not a sweet luncheon, blessing though that was to me. It is in the understanding that through ministering to others, Christ ministers to me.

This may then read as self serving, but I’m ok with that.  If I can encourage someone to reach out and find out how they can volunteer, and their motivation is that they want the feel goods, I’m ok with that because they’re serving and connecting. Truly, if someone’s motivation to volunteer is even to be able to attend a luncheon, I’m ok with that, too, because even if the motivation is wrong, someone was cared for, and I trust that if they continue to walk in service, they will come to see how sweet it is to wash feet.

If you have time, give it.
If you have talents, use them.
If you don’t know where to begin, ask.

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