I was at a meeting recently, one of those meetings that are occupational hazards for those of us in ministry. It was scheduled for the whole day, including lunch. Now, in my ministry career, I have spent a lot of time at such meetings as a speaker, a chairperson or just as someone attending such a meeting. Meetings of any kind are generally not my favourite aspect of ministry–but that may become the topic of a later post.
At many of the meetings like this that I attend, there is always a point in the meeting where those in charge reveal that some committee or another needs someone to do some task. Generally, the tasks have some purpose that is legitimate and maybe even important. It will also be a volunteer position, although occasionally, there might be compensation for expenses, although since most of my meetings are church related, that isn’t a given.
I have found over the years of attending such meetings that there are generally two types of people when it comes to such requests. There are the volunteers, which we will look at tomorrow, and there are the non-volunteers, which is what I want to look at today. There is some shifting between the categories but in general, most people fit in one or the other category.
I personally tend to be in the non-volunteer category. I think part of that might result from the mantra I learned in my brief military experience, where we were continually being told “Don’t Volunteer”. More of the unwillingness not to volunteer comes from the fact that I need time to think things through and volunteering when I first hear something just doesn’t fit with my need to think and pray things through. Occasionally, I don’t volunteer because I know immediately that I don’t have the time and/or ability to do the job. But more often than not, I don’t volunteer because I need time to think and pray.
Others whom I have talked to as a pastor have a different reason for not volunteering–they are pretty much convinced that they have nothing to offer that would do anyone any good. In their minds, calls for volunteers are never for them because they would never, ever be able to do anything.
I don’t feel I have nothing to offer when someone asks for volunteers–I am just reluctant to speak up without taking the time I need to make a decision, so like so many others, when the call for this or that position goes out, I don’t respond–or, better, I don’t respond by immediately jumping into the position. I might respond later, once I have had the time to think that I need but chances of my responding right there and then are pretty slim. It has happened, but only at those times when I knew before hand that the call was coming and had been thinking it through.
While I am comfortable with the “don’t volunteer immediately” approach that I have developed, there is a downside. If I don’t volunteer and don’t really listen to the call and therefore don’t think about it, I may be missing something that God wants me to do. Over the years as a pastor, I have seen this play out a lot among the people who don’t volunteer because they think they can’t do anything.
People like me need to be careful when it comes to our not volunteering. Going through life with a blanket “no” to any and every call to do something is probably a mistake. We all have at least one gift of the Holy Spirit that needs to be expressed for the full development of the church and the faith. Sometimes, that gift will best be expressed in the context of a something that we are asked to volunteer for at a meeting of some kind. When I automatically say no, I may well be saying no not so much to a committee’s request to me but rather to God’s request for me to volunteer for something.
I need to remember to take the time to think things through, rather than just say no and forget about it. I don’t have to volunteer for everything that comes along but I do have to be open to God’s leading, which may even come during a long and not always riveting meeting.
May the peace of God be with you.