In Christianity Today, Michelle Van Loon wrote the following article: Church Volunteers: An Oxymoron – Why I’ve stopped using the word ‘volunteer’ to describe those who serve. This article expresses the same dilemma that we find in the church with many things: using our government structure to develop our organizational system in the church; treating the church like a democracy; being too strong on business models to describe success and so on. Of course, some elements of these practices are very helpful so that we keep ourselves above reproach and accountable in certain aspects, like handling money. The struggle is, how do we balance and focus our process so that it is clearly led by the Lord and done well so it is clear to everyone? Remember that God’s ways are not our ways; success in the world is not the same thing as success in God’s kingdom. Loon says they have stopped using the word volunteer because it is not biblical and improperly changes and undermines God’s expectation for his children.
Volunteer can simply mean people who do not get paid. We have paid staff who provide for their families through their call to ministry. Everyone else is a volunteer in the sense that they simply do not get paid. They give of their time and energy above and beyond their normal occupational work.
Volunteer can also mean that a person has the freedom to do what they want. Paid people have a job description and there are different expectations on them than volunteers (right or wrong there are usually different expectations). Volunteers can choose to get involved in one ministry or not. When they choose to get involved it is usually in the context of a number of stipulations including time, energy, demands, responsibilities, and accountability. If they think something is too much for their time they will adapt or not do it.
On the other hand, the word “volunteer” is not a word represented in the Bible. Certainly there are things like free-will offerings (not required by Law); there are times God called people to choose based on the desire of their heart. But God has placed everyone in the Body of Christ so that everyone has a role; everyone has a significant designation to contribute to the maturity and health of the Body (1 Cor. 12:18-27). God’s expectation is that every member has a valuable role. God even tells us that those parts that do not seem as important are given greater honor by God (1 Cor. 12:20-25). Every member is to contribute. There is no permission by God to simply be a spectator. There are no tickets to watch from the sidelines with God. Every members is critical to the full health of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16).
Here are some questions that might help you think about your current status and encourage you to think about if and how God wants you to take your next step in the Body:
- Do you know how God has placed you in the Body?
- Do you know what role or ministry God has assigned to you to serve the rest of the Body?
- Do you know how the Spirit has gifted you and how you can make a unique contribution for the church?
- In what ways can you serve or contribute to help a ministry flourish and grow?
- Do you have any unique capabilities that can help energize a ministry or program?
Sincerely in His service,