End of the Line

Last week, we examined the painful truth of most congregations large and small:  no one is standing in line behind you to take your volunteer role when you are ready to lay it down.  Going deeper still, a good follow-up question is:  why do we want people to get in line?

It’s one thing for churches to be concerned with the dwindling number (and availability and energy) of potential volunteers. It is another to think through what the church is offering as a return on a volunteer’s investment of time and energy.  In short, what is the reward?  (Or should we not talk in terms of reward at all?)

One of the more famous lines in scripture concludes the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16):

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  

When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.

 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The parable signals that it knows why these laborers were gathered – they wanted work.  Whether or not the work was difficult, the need to work was great, because extra workers could be found all day long.  The problem was not in the supply or demand of workers or work.  The problem was one of expectation and reward.   

  • What expectations do the workers brings to their labor? What is their reward?


  • What do you make of the landowner’s choices? Why does he continue to hire workers? Why does he pay them as he does?


  • What do you make of the last line and its guidance for your church board?


  • Why do you want church members to volunteer? What is in it for the congregation? What is in it for the volunteers?
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