“I Am Not Volunteering!”

“I am not volunteering!” The parishioner who accosted me after worship one Sunday morning was not angry but so very earnest he definitely had my attention! That morning in worship we had asked for volunteers to work in our homeless shelter. His words surprised me because he’d been a creative, tireless, compassionate volunteer with that ministry for several years and seemed to truly love participating in this way. His adamant “I am not volunteering!” was even more surprising since he’d already signed up!

“Please say more.” I invited, wondering if he’d had a bad experience or changed his mind or something. What he said not only caught me off-guard, it changed from then on my understanding of church volunteering. And of discipleship. “Listen,” he said, “I believe I am called to this work by God in Christ. I’m not volunteering out of the goodness of my heart but rather I am responding to the goodness of God’s heart who enlisted me in God’s service for the sake of God’s Kingdom. This work is one way my own life is increasingly surrendered to God in Christ. Call me a follower. Call me a member of the Body of Christ. Call me a disciple. Just don’t call me a volunteer.”

Well now. I’d been schooled.

Two things strike me about this with regard to discipleship. The initiative is God’s. We love because God first loved us. We belong because God “adopted” us in to the family. Our lives can be part of something far greater than ourselves because, in the words of a recent FB post I saw, “The same God who created mountains and oceans and galaxies looked at you and thought the world needed one of you, too.” You are loved. You belong. You’re needed! Imagine that!

The other thing that strikes me is that while God takes the initiative to redeem and make you wholly the person God intends you to be, you only become wholly that person by following Jesus. By being his disciple, learning his ways, surrendering your whole life, like he did, to God. The truest and best life is one given over to the One who is able to do far greater things in and through you than you could think or even imagine. As Anne Lamott famously said out of her own experience of conversion and painstaking freedom from addiction, “Grace meets you where you are, but (thank God!) it does not leave you there.”

I wonder what would happen if the church got rid of volunteers and more explicitly recognized and nurtured disciples instead?

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