Voluteering vs. Being Used


The other day, I was reading this blog post here (and another one by the same author that I’ll link to in a bit), and it gave me some splendid things to think about, so I thought we might think through them together.

Here’s the main idea I got out of the posts:

Individual people aren’t interchangeable pieces in the church puzzle.

So… the example Mike Breen uses is the hypothetical situation in which Peter, James, Timothy, Lydia, Priscilla and Paul all go to your church and ask what they can do to help. What would your pastor or leadership team ask them to do… probably get them to lead small groups, help out with hospitality, or maybe play in the band, right?

Does that horrify you as much as it horrifies me?

Leading a small group is a perfectly wonderful endeavor, but it seems like it’s become the only thing a disciple can really do with his/her life to serve. I suppose we could all run out to the mission field as well, but aren’t there any other options?

Let’s be honest. I don’t want to lead a small group. I’m smart, well-read, and I teach for a living, which all seem to qualify me for that role, but I also don’t always walk the party line and might even post something scandalous here on my blog. 🙂  I hate following curricula with formulaic questions and I hate inauthentic correctness – all of which are common in small group settings.

I don’t want to go to the mission field right now, and besides that, evangelism is not one of my spiritual gifts, so it seems unwise to make evangelism my career unless God specifically tells me to (which He hasn’t).

I always volunteer for whatever roles my church needs filled like greeting, cleaning, VBS leader, etc… because I enjoy being involved, but those things rarely engage any of my spiritual gifts.

My particular skill set seems to be mismatched with the church, which is sad. I don’t just want to volunteer. I want God to use me. Of course I’ll keep volunteering, but I want more than that. I believe there’s more out there, because occasionally, I glimpse it. I say just the right thing to the right person, without knowing why I’ve said it. I show up when I’d planned to stay home and the Spirit works a divine moment that I get to participate in. The Father answers my prayers or shows me why He’s formed me to be who I am.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the church tried to use people as we were made to be used rather than asking us to fill one of three or four positions that would help keep the status quo? I don’t know if what I’m writing is even possible, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was? Sometimes it seems like the movement of the Spirit to engage my spiritual gifts is completely disconnected from the church, and I don’t think I should be. I wish it wasn’t, but I’m not sure what to do to change that.

Thoughts? What are your spiritual gifts and is the church using them? How could the church use your gifts and skill sets more fully?

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3 thoughts on “Voluteering vs. Being Used

  1. The number of layers to this conversation could best be covered over a cup of coffee, but I will do my best to communicate clearly without the luxury of perceiving where I might be misunderstood. 🙂

    We have a major malfunction on both ends of the machine. Many of the commenters on this post accurately describe a church system that cannot function without a mass of volunteers that are slaves to the system. The issue is not “volunteering vs. being used” so much as ministering within a structure that expects its people to hear from the Lord, and releases them to do so. That one word: release… it transforms the individual believer from an infant doing the will of its caretaker to an empowered instrument of the Spirit. The luxury for most churches in reproducing infants is that they require less personal engagement, keep the system operating as interchangeable drones bringing forth money and manpower, and they will not disrupt the illusion of control that a Christian leader feels he has over his flock and vision. Releasing requires time, trust, and an expectation that your entire congregation is growing spiritually and can discern the Spirit’s leading in their lives, an expectation that can only be maintained when the church refuses to cater to uncommitted people. For most churches, releasing is as scary as hell.

    In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

    So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)

    I find it incredible that the church initiated Paul’s first journey without his suggestion. It wasn’t a matter of Paul taking a million spiritual gift inventories to find his fit in the church. They knew what the Spirit would have them do and they knew that Paul and Barnabas were the men who’s gifts God wanted to use. They had spent the past year developing a gift set that they didn’t properly have a function for until that point. So what do you suppose Paul did during that time? Did he sit in idle waiting because he was not yet useful? Did he lead a small group? Did he ask the church to help him find his fit? No. I presume he was obedient to the Spirit in the learning curve, same as he was once he was released. That could have meant anything from “study this scripture” to “clean up this park full of trash.” And it really wouldn’t matter whether it felt voluntary or useful because the Spirit was guiding the process and timing through which his individual gifts were purposeful to God.

    If you read 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 in context of one another (as one coherent letter), it makes complete sense how gifts were meant to be operated:

    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

    But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 12:28-13:3)

    First thing we notice is that God appoints for His purposes and not for ours. He does not give us gifts to feel useful or effective, but for the edification of His plan for the church. Secondly, when Paul directs us to “desire the greater gifts,” it has to be understood in that context. A missionary friend once said: “What is the greater gift? Of course, it’s the one He needs right now!” Rather than getting caught in the trap of offering nothing until our gift is nurtured, we should be asking and seeking God in what He’d have us do today. Last, the “most excellent way” to exercise our gifts is out of loving discernment for one another. If a believer does not yet understand their gifts as a ministry to others rather than a proud self-identity, it is useless to God, regardless how in tune that believer may be with his or her individual purpose. That believer has missed the point entirely.

    Katie, I think the answer for you is the same for everyone. I’ve told you before that I believe God has given you an apostolic gift set that is useful to beginning new works. You will lose interest quickly if you are not engaged in a church body that facilitates your endeavors, and it is their responsibility to empower you and discern when it’s time to set Katie free to do Katie-like ministry. But we also have to be willing to be diligent in what God has before us now and serve joyfully, so long as we’re following leaders that we can trust to release us. That’s a “so long as” that I can’t answer for you. I’ve been blessed with a church and a discipler that encourages my spiritual pursuits even when they don’t “get” me. But I must be faithful in discerning how my pursuits are useful for His greater purpose within our body. And if the time isn’t right, I prepare some more and pick up some trash.

  2. Something that came up at Quarter Life last time was someone was talking about the difference between waiting for God to be present and seeking out places he is active and going there for his presence. I’m not sure that’s entirely on the same lines, but what you wrote reminded me of that a little.

    I’m at a little of a disadvantage to respond to this, though I understand. I have found a near “perfect fit” between me and my churches needs. That has something to do with where they are and where I am (of course truly all God’s timing) but another aspect has to do with the openness of my Pastor to guide the church where we are lead as people, not just a church. He is willing to allow people to really run with where they feel called.

    I’m not sure either of those are helpful. Sorry.

    If you could pick how you could volunteer, what would you want to do?

    • I get the feeling that this post went across very differently from how I meant it.

      I love my church and I think my pastor is better at identifying and using peoples’ gifts than just about anyone I’ve ever met. 🙂 This post isn’t about a problem that I’m currently having… it’s more about a problem that lots of people have and that was communicated to me in a new way in the blog posts I linked to up there. When I say that my gifts are mismatched with the church, I don’t necessarily mean my church; I mean church in the broader, more corporate sense. I mean to say that there is no mechanism for using individuals, but there is a mechanism for changing individuals to make them fit.

      I hope that makes sense.

      As for how I’d choose to volunteer, I’m currently looking into a ministry I just found out about that helps women who have been involved in the sex industry. I’d like to get involved with that if I can, because I like one-on-one friendship rather than groups and lessons. Still, I wish there was something more like that that my church was involved with so I wouldn’t have to look outside of our little community for opportunities like that one.

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