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Volunteerism: A New Way of Thinking about Ministry

By The Howitzer

It has been interesting to observe how volunteerism is on the rise in America. When President Obama came to office one of the first thing he trumpeted was the need for Americans to volunteer. On the website, the heading reads: Renew America Together. It then has this plea to service from the President: “President Obama believes that we, as Americans, have a responsibility to help our communities and fellow citizens. In summoning a new spirit of service, he is calling on us to make an enduring commitment to our neighborhoods. Sign up today and let’s renew America together.”

He may be “summoning a new spirit of service”, but the call to service began long before. In Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount He mentions that kingdom seekers are to be salt and light in the culture. Simply put that means we are to have an effect on the culture. But, many followers of Jesus these days (in American culture anyway) are living in conflict with society verses trying to influence society. Within a short period of time most Christian have very few non-Christian friends. And most of their activities center on “Christian Activities”. Sometimes the biggest obstacle to being salt and light in the world is involvement in Church activities. We spend so much time with the gathered ones that we don’t have any time to scatter.

We create a Christian subculture where we can get everything we need and not have to be soiled by the world. We have our social needs met at our churches, we start our own schools, we shop at stores that are “Christian owned and operated”. We have our own television stations, our own bookstores and radio stations. In some churches they have their own athletic complexes and workouts to spiritual music so you don’t have to sweat next to a pagan. The closest that some believers get to the world is at work. But even there if we are not careful we can play the victim role and bemoan the fact that we are surrounded by people who don’t share our values. A lot of Christian men dream of the day when they can serve God full time and when they grow up spiritually they can be pastors or a missionary, instead of creating spreadsheets or hammering nails to the glory of God. Enough already!

Why are we afraid of the culture we are supposed to be shaping? My contention is that we approaching it all wrong. We are using a compound mentality. Let me illustrate: way back in the day I am told that when the early missionaries were reaching out to different culture that would sometimes build missionary compounds. They had everything needed for life inside the compound. The goal was to make periodic jaunts outside the complex to minister to folks and then come back to the safety of the compounds. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing these folks because their commitment is a foundation of the belief systems of whole countries. But salt and light is not something that comes and goes, it is supposed to be a constant, continuous influence.

Most of us live lives centered on work, family, church and friends. I would like to ask you to consider adding a new category to your orbit: volunteerism. Webster’s Dictionary defines a volunteer as a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service. I am not talking about more volunteering at the church (though we need to be volunteering there too). But, rather out in the community. Join your PTO! Coach a soccer team. Help in a Girl Scout program. Serve in a soup kitchen. Start a WatchD.O.G.S Program at your school. Do something out there! Anything you have an interest in. The funny thing is, if you will begin to serve you will find like-minded people who you have a lot in common with. Many of them will not be like-minded related to issues of faith, but you will connect at a heart level.

One area I serve in is with WatchD.O.G.S at our local elementary school. We have 500 kids at our school and that means there are 500 dads. I was asked to join a leadership team with some like minded guys who have a heart for their kids (just like me) and they have a passion for helping dads get more involved in the their kids lives (just like me). Together we are slowly making a difference in the culture of our school. This is not a faith-based program. It is a program that exists to galvanize the hearts of fathers to their children. We want to serve our school, our teachers, our kids and ultimately the community. It is one of the most enjoyable things I do.

Several years ago I was greatly impacted by the Pastor of the church I was attending in Little Rock. He was giving the annual, state of the Church address and he made the following comments, “I have been analyzing our needs at the church and have found that I can staff all the volunteer positions needed within the 4 walls of the church with less than 300 people. That means that the rest of you NEED TO GET A JOB! Most of those jobs need to be OUT THERE not IN HERE! Our job as a church is to help you find your job and help you do it.” I am sure I am butchering the quote but the sentiment is right on the money. What am I doing out there? Am I really being salt and light? Maybe I need to quit my day job and get a volunteer job. Volunteerism may very well be the next wave of having real impact in our world. That’s what Obama says. The Howitzer says it too. Jesus said it first!

Photo by lynnefeatherstone

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