When Pastor's wives get together, the subject of conversation eventually gets around to shop talk. (That's after talking about labor and childbirth, of course!) One subject that often comes up is the issue of finding volunteers in the church. Here is an article that I was asked to write as a result of these discussions.
Congregations present many ministry challenges to the Pastor. One of the greatest challenges of any Pastor is finding people willing to help him in faithfully meeting and fulfilling those challenges. Many a conversation between clergy has been about the challenge of finding “volunteers” to help with the ministries of the church. Lack of people to fill these positions can hinder, cripple and yes, even kill a local body.
Many a chat room and many a minister’s meeting has produced creative ideas as to how to get congregation members to volunteer, but even those seem to come full cycle and we are left begging for help. In my pre-med classes in college, I learned that a reoccurring problem is an indication that you have only treated a symptom and not the cause. So, perhaps this reoccurring problem of lack of volunteerism is a result of treating a symptom instead of the cause.
My mamma used to say, “when you point a finger at someone or something else, there are four fingers pointing right back at ya.” And as I have thought about this, I believe that the problem certainly has come home to roost, right in the Pastor’s lap.
James 4:3 says, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. “
When we ask for “volunteers” in the Body of Christ, I believe we ask amiss in the sense that the word “volunteer” is never once mentioned in scripture. Yes, God did ask “who will go?”, but he was talking to specific persons, not a group of people. It wasn’t because God had trouble finding volunteers to do His bidding. He already knew what was in the hearts of those He asked, and knew what their answer would be. God is love, so when He asks, it’s never an act of compulsion or manipulation. The love of God allows and makes room for willing responses.
In scripture we find contrasting types of people. There are those that were hired, and those who willingly served. There are false shepherds (hirelings) and true shepherds (servants). We find those who are compelled, and those who are willing. When God needed a Messiah, Christ was not offered a reward. He was not hired, He was not compelled, He came willingly out of love and in service to His Father. He came as a servant, not a volunteer.
Service is one the main themes of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Suppose, instead of asking for volunteers from our congregations, we ask for servants instead? This is not just a case of semantics. There are vast differences between a volunteer and a servant. Unfortunately in our society volunteerism and servant hood are thought of as being similar, indeed congruent by some. However, scripture proves that there are vast differences.
In considering the differences between the two we see that:
Volunteers usually desire thanks for the service they provided.
Servants give thanks for the privilege of serving.
Volunteers desire recognition for their service.
Servants desire recognition for the one they did the service for.
Volunteers serve when they can
Servants serve when they’re asked
Volunteers receive a sense of self gratification when they serve
Servants serve in order that others can be gratified, even if they receive no gratification for themselves.
When we pioneered our last church, we never once asked for volunteers. From day one, we asked for servants. People looked at us like “what?” A few trickled in at first, but as we modeled, preached, taught and discipled servants, they began to increase. I honestly believe that many Christians have no sense of Biblical servanthood because they have not been taught Biblical servanthood. When they became Christians it was to receive from God. They came to receive forgiveness, an answer to their problems, a better life, healing of some kind, to add God to their lives—all good things and certainly things we receive from God, but Christianity is about receiving a new nature, the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to serve.
Philip. 2:5-8 (KJV)
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Our salvation was necessary for service, because by being saved, we have been set free to serve. Prior to salvation we were unfit, unable, and unacceptable for service to God, therefore we were servants of the devil and servants for ourselves. After salvation, all things become new because our nature becomes new.
Another “good ole saying” my mamma used to say was “we does what we is”, translated, we do what we are. A dog barks, a frog croaks, a skunk stinks. If a dog wanted to be a frog, he could go to a pond, sit on a lily pad and bark until he croaked, but it would not make him a frog. He could paint his fur green, transplant warts onto his back, and use his tongue to catch flies, but he would still be a dog. The only way for a dog to become a frog is to have a DNA change.
God calls to BE His servants, not just to serve. The false shepherd does the same job as the true shepherd, but there is a world of difference between the two. The attitude of the heart in the true shepherd is one of servicefirst to the one who put him in that position and secondly to the sheep. The false shepherd’s heart is to profit from the sheep. In Matthew 25, Jesus makes the difference clear between those who do and those who are.
Matthew 25:35-46 (KJV)
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Here we find the true servants asking, “when did we do these things?” They didn’t even realize what they had done! Why? Because they did it naturally, it was second nature to them. Just as it is second nature to sinners to sin—they don’t think about it, they just do what they are. So we, as Christians, having the new nature of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, will serve because Christ is a servant, and His nature was given to us and service is second nature to us now! It’s not something we contemplate, it’s just what we do because of who we are.
Scripture tells us that Christ:
-John 5:19 – could do nothing by himself
-John 5:30 –could do nothing…sought not to please Himself
-John 5:41-did not accept praise from men
-Jn. 6:38- came…not to do His own will.
-Jn. 7:16-taught not His own doctrine, but taught the doctrine of God
-Jn. 7:28- did not come on His own, but was sent by another
-Jn. 8:28-can do nothing of His own accord
-Jn. 8:50-did not come seeking glory for Himself
-Jn. 14:24-did not preach His own Words
Christ came as the perfect example of a servant of the Lord. He gave up all His rights and privileges in order to willingly and voluntarily serve the Father. His father’s will was His will. His father’s desires were His desires. He was only concerned with the Father’s agenda, the Father’s property, the Father's reputation.
As ministers, we must model servant hood for our congregations. They need to observe our willingness to lay aside our rights, privileges, and desires for the sake of gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be willing to preach the whole truth, even when it hurts because, as my favorite t-shirt says, “it’s not about us, it’s about God.” They must see that we are willing to risk popularity, reputation, and comfort for the sake of the message of another, no matter the cost. They must observe that we are whole heartedly sold out to building the kingdom of God and not our own kingdom.
Secondly, we must preach and teach servant hood. Our congregation must understand that we cannot serve two masters, Luke 16:13. They must understand that we serve God first and only. They must understand that when they became Christians, they became servants!! They then must understand that the service of God most often involves the serving of others, as His ambassadors. An ambassador is one who carries the message of another which he delivers exactly the way he received it, without deviating from it, even a little.
Thirdly, we must disciple in such a way as to develop servants. Jesus discipled His followers in the following manner. He showed them what to do, and they watched him. John 2:11 Then He showed them what to do and allowed them to help, as in the miracles of feeding the multitudes. Then He had them do it while He helped. Then He had them do while He watched. Then He commissioned them to go and do. Through his discipleship they went from “doing” to “being”, and that is what changed the world. We must actively involve those “becoming” servants in the servant hood learning process.
Most faithful church attendees are there because they have a desire to love and serve God. Scripture tells us that if we want to be great in His kingdom, we must be the servant of all, no matter who or what needs service. This is not a hard thing for “God has shed His love abroad in our hearts”. We must, by faith, allow that love to flow into the lives of others as we care for and serve the body and those around us, in His name.
When the disciples chose deacons, they didn’t choose men and compel them to serve. They chose those that were already servants at heart and put them in a position of service. The reason they could do this was because those believers understood that the true working out of salvation is through service, first to God, and then to others. It’s not a position, it’s not a calling, it’s what we are if we have truly been born again and received the new nature of Christ.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention humility because service is not possible unless there is first humility. Humility is the springboard that lifts us up to a life of servant hood. James tells us to “humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift us up.” But from where does He lift us and to where does He exalt us? We are lifted from death to life. We are lifted from nothingness to the lowliness of Christ. We are lifted out of selfishness into selflessness. We are exalted when we have been raised into the humility of Christ. At the very center of Christ’s humility, is servant hood. It is hard to separate the two.
So next time you need help in ministry, don’t ask for volunteers, ask for servants. If no one responds, well…..you have a sermon series idea! Your congregation will never be happier than when they see the glorious purpose and freedom in servant hood, and you will never have to ask for volunteers again. I know, we tried it, and it works!