Fifty years ago, life was simpler for most church people. They raised their family, worked their job, and went to church. They volunteered in their church, because it was the “right thing to do.” They embraced a community of faith and rarely left their church over hurt feelings or a disagreement with the pastor. They were also less bombarded with other activities.
Fast forward fifty years and there must be four hundred volunteer organizations in my small rural town. The discretionary time that a person has is limited, so there seems to be a competition among service organizations.
I must admit, I am a recovering proprietary pastor. I wanted the people in my church to serve only our organization (and maybe a small amount of time at one of the local missions that our church supports). I saw the Red Cross, Goodwill, and the Humane Society as threats, because they took precious time and energy away from some of our church members. It is not that I was against signing people up for the blood drive, teaching job skills, or rescuing pets, but my thoughts were to let the people who have rejected the calling of Christ take care of those needs. “The church needs the undivided attention of her members.” That was my old way of thinking.
When Jesus said, “As you are going, make disciples…,” He did not limit their efforts to the four walls of a building. In fact, He meant the very opposite. There is nothing in Scripture that supports isolation. God is calling His children to permeate all of society, infiltrate the ranks of every social avenue, and be the “salt and light” that causes people to see our works and give glory to God. God could be calling you to be a missionary, not to save cats or put out fires, but to reach people with the Gospel through a “non-church” organization. The best way to reach out to people who need the hope of Christ is to actually know some and spend some time with them.
While this is a trend the church must embrace, two cautions are prudent. A believer in Christ should not solely volunteer in a “secular” organization. We are gifted by God to edify the Body, and this is primarily accomplished in the local church. Our involvement should be a “both/and” not an “either/or.” Second, we need to be a steward of our time. Volunteering in any organization has the potential to become consuming. This should never be at the neglect of our family.
So now, I no longer see other service organizations as a threat to the church. These are opportunities to increase the influence of the people who bear the name of Christ. Maybe we should offer training in the church for “non-church” volunteering. We could have a workshop called “How to be a Christ-honoring Little League Coach” or “Crisis Counseling Techniques for Emergency Workers.” Share with me some of your ideas about how to reach the community we live in through volunteering with other organizations in the “Comments” section.
Check out the previous posts in this series on ministry trends: