A note from Kelly King: I’ve listened to Sheila West talk about this subject in the past, and I’m so grateful she has written down her thoughts on volunteerism in the church. Because of Sheila, I am careful about how I “enlist” people to serve, and I have changed my language in the way I ask people to be servant leaders. After reading today’s article, I hope you’ll consider the way you ask others to serve.
A conversation I often find myself in with other ministry leaders is how difficult it is to get people to volunteer. Because most of ministry is handled by people who aren’t receiving a paycheck, a huge amount of time and energy is used by ministry leaders trying to get people to volunteer. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is trying to transform the mindset of “getting volunteers.” Perhaps the question that we need to consider is, “Does the terminology of volunteer even apply to the church?”
I have come to believe that church and voluntarism is an oxymoron. Volunteering is an optional choice. There are a lot of good-hearted people who have opted to volunteer their time and resources for many good causes. However, the church is not an organization who needs volunteers; rather, it is an assembly of believers who have been called, gifted, and commissioned to be obedient servants.
I am not talking semantics of words here but about functioning out of a biblical mindset. The Bible is full of Scriptures on God’s call to serve (Mark 10:45; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 3:23-24; 1 Peter 4:10; 5:2; Romans 12:4-7,11; 1 Corinthians 12:5, etc). That is our purpose. There is no fulfilling the Christian life nor can the church fulfill its mission without God’s people intentionally being about the Father’s business as His servants. Embracing our roles as servants gives meaning to seemingly meaningless tasks and ignites the joy of knowing we have been chosen by God.
We should not forget that serving is an act of obedience. It is part of the spiritual growth and discipling process within the body. God’s Word clarifies that those He calls to serve He equips to fulfill their assignments. Everyone in the church should be serving in some way. But it shouldn’t be from being “guilted” to say yes, but through gifting and sensing God’s nudges.
This does not always happen, in part because of lack of knowledge of spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a God-given talent or ability given to individuals through the power of the Holy Spirit that allows them to express their faith—either through words or through deeds—and to strengthen the faith of others.
Second, even when spiritual gifts are understood, they may not be considered when seeking those to serve in different capacities. At times the urgency to fill a spot trumps the consideration of those who are gifted to serve in that way.
Third is the problem of complacency within the body. For many, there is a lack of concern about strengthening the faith of others. They are content to go to church without functioning as part of the church.
Imagine how exciting it can be to be a catalyst in creating a culture of purposeful, passionate, and proactive people of God who are united around a common vision of fulfilling God’s plans. You may be thinking, “Yes! But how?”
As servant leaders, we can begin to:
- Intentionally transform personal mindsets from “getting volunteers” to discerning God’s servant for the task at hand.
- Intentionally teach spiritual gifts and develop disciples who are using them as they serve.
- Intentionally communicate the “why” of ministry and not just “will you?”
- Intentionally develop a ministry strategy that doesn’t overwhelm the people God has provided to man the mission.
- Intentionally create a culture of believers who are thankful for their salvation and passionate to serve according to their giftedness and abilities because they purposefully serve God in strengthening the faith of others.
There is a fable that is told of Jesus returning to heaven. When He arrived, the angels were so glad to see Him. One of the angels exclaimed, “Jesus we are so glad you are back. Is your work on earth completed?”
Jesus responded, “No. There is more work to be done.”
The angel then asked, “But who will finish the work?”
Jesus said, “The plan is to assign the work that needs to be done to those who believe in Me—My servants.”
The angel thought a minute and then said, “But what if that plan doesn’t work? What is your other plan?”
Jesus said, “There is no other plan!”
The church is not in need of more volunteers but obedient servants joyfully fulfilling God’s plan.
Sheila has been involved in women’s ministry for over 35 years, serving as Director of Women’s Ministry for over 20 years in the local church. She is presently on staff at Heritage Community Church, Fruitland Park, Florida as Director of Administration as well as serving as Director of Women’s Ministry. She is the founder of Real Living Ministries, a speaking, teaching, and leadership development ministry to women. Sheila is also a contributing author to Transformed Lives: Taking Women’s Ministry to the Next Level, Revised and Expanded edition. Sheila has appeared on numerous Christian radio and television broadcasts, including The 700 Club, and 100 Huntley Street. She is the author of Beyond Chaos, published by NavPress and is a Lifeway Women’s Trainer. She and her husband, John, are the parents of two and proud grandparents of seven.