I am taking a break from my abstract pontifications about God, life, and reality, and am turning my attention to a practical matter of service: Volunteering

Many churches and ministry organizations depend entirely on volunteer humanpower. This is, I think, a wonderful approach to ministry, as it enables the lay person to be a valuable and integral part of a church or ministry community. It also serves to alleviate the pressures placed upon paid staff “pastors” to perform every single function that the organization engages in. And besides ownership for the volunteer and alleviation for the pastor, the system of volunteer leadership develops growth and maturity in the volunteer as they are given the opportunity to try out their ideas and get some real world feedback on their ideals.

However, many people are skeptical of this system because they or someone they know have been taken advantage of while volunteering. It seems obvious; when you commit your energies towards something without an agreed return for your energies, the line between giving and being taken can be fuzzy if not down right transient. And it is likely that we are all worried about donating towards an unworthy cause.

There is an aspect of volunteering that can hedge against such abuses: voice. See, when we commit to serving some organization, we are often expected to volunteer our time, talents, and  money. These are the things that are necessary for an organization to succeed. But when we volunteer those things without volunteering our voice, we open ourselves up to abuse and thankless hours of service that feel unappreciated.

It boils down to this: If you are serving and are asked to commit to an organization or project, be sure to commit your whole person- Time, Talent, Money and Voice! Time, Money and Talent should not come without the Voice, because the Voice is the part of the person that invites reflection. The other two can easily be manipulated, while your Voice is harder to manipulate.

The Voice is where you speak your mind, express concern, address issues of abuse or oversight, and generally let your self be known. This act functions in two directions simultaneously. The first is that it adds your perspective to the situation, and from where you stand you might see something no one else can. Second, it allows the leaders in your life to know where you stand, and gives them permission to encourage you in the direction you need to grow. This serves to benefit both the organization and the volunteer, as both are developed.

So speak up! Concerned with a practice at your organization? Bring it to the person in charge of that practice. This highlights an important distinction: the difference between having a voice and gossiping. Gossiping is talking about a problem where neither you or the other person are a part of the problem or the solution. That’s gossip, and it is not using your Voice appropriately. Having and using your Voice is bringing your concerns and ideas to the people who are either part of the problem or solution. And always be prepared to have your own eyes opened, because you may not see everything from where you stand. And if you’re wrong in your concern, then the organization has the opportunity to build rapport with you by showing you what is really going on.

But this system requires humility all the way around- on the part of the volunteer and on the part of the leaders of the organization. If egos are left unchecked the system breaks down and both sides leave bitter and angry. So if you lead, do so with confident humility. And if you volunteer, do so with confident humility.

And in case you are wondering, this post draws heavily on Ephesians 4. If you’re interested, go check that out and read it through the lens of volunteers and leaders in ministry organizations.

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