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At the heart of every thriving church, you will find a dedicated team of volunteers who come alongside the staff and give sacrificially so that life can happen. When I picture volunteer support in the local church, I see an iceberg. The visible portion of an iceberg is also the smallest portion, while the base of its power can be found below the water. Similarly, many of the vital support roles in the church are less visible, or at least less glamorous, but each is critically important. They are the jobs where nobody notices when you do them, but everyone notices when they are not getting done.
The question of whether or not everyone should volunteer is a conversation for another day, but consider this…how do we view our local churches? Is it a Panera-like experience where we slip in, grab some coffee and a bagel, enjoy a service being provided and then slip back out? Or is it a family thing…a community thing…where we show up early to help brew the coffee, pour it for each other, worship together and clean up our mess before leaving? Serving is not just about helping meet the practical needs of the church; it is largely about the ways we grow, individually and as a community, throughout the process.
Assuming we are all on the same page about being involved, the next question is what to do. This is where our hearts are laid bare. Are we willing to serve in the quiet, unseen places, even if we feel “over-qualified”? Are we willing to say, “Put me wherever you need me”?
When I was nineteen, I was hired as a director on the student ministries staff in the church I grew up in. I spent the next five years working in a wonderful, energetic community - teaching multiple times per week, counseling students, and planning large events. During that time, I met my husband and he joined the student ministries staff as well. At a certain point, we felt God calling us to trust Him in new places and we moved out in faith to step down from our positions and put all our focus into finishing school. Today, he is on staff full-time in a new church that has become our home, and when I first offered to volunteer, my heart and mind were confronted with this difficult question. Am I willing to let go of what I’ve done in the past and serve wherever I am needed now? I will not pretend it was an easy question for me to answer.
Three years later, I connect new volunteers with teams needing help. A couple months ago, we received a registration card from a man who did not request a specific team, rather he asked to be put in whichever place we needed him. Others had made similar notes, but I was especially struck by what he included at the end - “I don’t mind working outside either, if there is a need for people to do grass or pick up trash.” Such humble words and pure motives. I thank God for people like this; they show me Jesus.
I am not making light of the skills and experiences we each bring to the table. God has given us those gifts for the benefit of the whole church (1 Corinthians 12). But perhaps those skills are going to be used in different ways, or maybe we will find ourselves in seasons where we are asked to set them aside in order to serve the places of greatest need.
Let me tell you about a married couple I know and admire. He is one of the most talented guitarists I have met and a regular on our worship team. She is warm, friendly and great with people. They both serve in a variety of high-level leadership roles. They also restock the bathrooms with toilet paper and soap. It is often a thankless job, but a true gift when 2000 people show up for weekend services.
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the son of man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)
I am struck by the belief that I could be more “qualified” to do anything. It is a lie. Jesus, the anointed Son of God, washed the dirty, cracked feet of his friends. He was perfectly holy and yet He died for me, a sinner to my core. Paul, a scholar, exemplary Jewish priest and one of the single greatest leaders in the church, wrote four of his thirteen New Testament letters from a prison cell; and yet he continued to rejoice and give thanks. Peter, the rock upon which Christ said the church would be built, was arrested and crucified upside down. So how can I ever think I am “over-qualified” for anything? Who am I to argue that I deserve a position of higher authority or recognition?
When I picture the early church, huddled around a room…bringing food to share, maybe passing around a blanket to stay warm…singing, praying, teaching, laughing, crying…getting up and cleaning the room together…hugging each other and heading home…sacrificing their reputations and personal safety for the sake of the Gospel…I am quite sure I do not deserve anything grand. And I am reminded of how deeply I hope to look like Jesus and the people who serve Him with sincere humility.
Are you a gifted teacher in a church that really needs help in the nursery? Have you led worship for years but your community needs someone to manage parking? Do you have a decade of experience with small group leadership but you are most needed with Sunday morning clean up? Maybe this is what it looks like to lay down our lives in western church culture. Maybe signing up to take out the trash requires changes in corners of our hearts that would otherwise remain untouched. When we let go of the myth of qualifications and we embrace serving the church in these humble places, God will surely meet us there and transform us through the process.
Cara Joyner spends her days chasing a toddler, nursing an infant, starting cups of coffee she rarely has time to finish and thinking about how much she needs to clean her house. Years of working in ministry and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology have led her to graduate school, where she is working towards a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. While waiting to finish grad school, she is working as a professional birth doula and freelance writer. Cara writes about family, health, faith and intentional living at www.carajoyner.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.