“Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get in the game.”
“Don’t just show up. Get involved.”
“The church needs you. In fact, we need you and four other people to volunteer for…”
Do church leaders understand the potential manipulative power of these pleas?
I’ve attended—and volunteered in—several churches. They’ve all needed volunteers to accomplish the plans of the church leaders. They’ve all asked for those volunteers on a regular basis. And in some of them, I’m convinced everyone in the church could have filled a role and they still wouldn’t have had enough volunteers to pull off everything they envisioned.
In some of these churches, I’ve made the mistake of volunteering for too much. In others, I’ve volunteered, driven by guilt, for tasks that I was not well-suited for. I’ve always regretted it—and those churches probably have too. By now, I’ve learned to draw reasonable boundaries most of the time, based on my gifts and my limitations. And I accept responsibility for the times when I have overcommitted.
At the same time, I believe I’ve faced more pressure from church staff members than I should have. Church leaders have always been more than happy to accept any volunteer effort I was willing to give, even if it clearly didn’t make sense. And they never stopped asking for more. In fact, one youth pastor told me he expected my volunteer efforts to be like a part-time job. I didn’t have time or energy for a part-time job on top of my full-time work. And if I had, I might have looked for one that paid. But I didn’t want to “sit on the sidelines,” so I exhausted myself to help in a ministry that needed people very different from me.
Sometimes, I’ve receive thanks for my efforts by way of an invitation to attend an event in honor of all the volunteers, showing appreciation by asking us to hire babysitters and spend one more evening at the church. I’ve always felt this is an ironic way to thank people who have sacrificed their time and energy—with one more obligation and a few more hours of precious time.
I’m not sure volunteers should have to work so hard to draw and maintain boundaries—and fend off the church’s requests for more of their time and energy. I’ve never worked as an official member of a church staff, but as a former pastor’s daughter and youth pastor’s wife, I suspect many church leaders fail to appreciate how much they’re asking volunteers to give. Because church ministry is their job and their passion, they may not realize what it takes to give time and energy as a volunteer on top of jobs and family responsibilities. Because they’re driven by exciting visions of all the church could do if they only had enough volunteer energy, they may lose sight of whether others are actually called and equipped to fulfill their visions. They may not understand that many people are exercising their spiritual gifts in ministries outside the church’s walls. And they may not realize how difficult it is for people to say no to pastors.
I understand the constant need for volunteer help in the church. I also understand that church leaders want to enable people to use their spiritual gifts to build the body of Christ—an extremely important part of their ministry. I also know that church leaders make sacrifices to fulfill their calling. But I believe that part of their calling as leaders is to care for the people in their congregations by recognizing and respecting their limitations, being sure people truly are serving to use their gifts rather than to fill a random void—and thinking before asking them to do more. And perhaps the initiatives of the church should be driven by the gifts represented among the people in the congregation, rather than the “if only’s” of a few people who happen to have the time to develop goals for ministry.
What do you think? Am I unreasonable to suggest that church staff members bear some responsibility for pushing volunteers’ boundaries?
This blog post first appeared on Christianity Today’s BuildingChurchLeaders.com.
© 2012 Amy Simpson.