If you ask any minister on any church staff to name the most frustrating part of the job, they’ll all say the same thing: “Working with volunteers.” The weekly routine of making sure people who agree to be somewhere are actually there and are doing what they promised they would do is the grind that frustrates most ministers to the point of looking for other ways to make a living.
If you talk with church members, they’re frustrated about the same thing. Church members are tired of being hounded by staff who need preschool workers, group leaders, teachers, ushers, and the list goes on and on. Church members are tired of being manipulated, guilt tripped, and emotionally bullied into jobs and places of service they aren’t gifted for and passionate about.
There has to be a better way—for everybody. I think there is.
Now, before I get too far down the road here, let’s be honest. Church is more like a family than a corporation. We don’t hire someone for everything that needs to be done in the church. We can’t. As a family, all of us have chores. All of us have tasks we may not enjoy, but we know we have to do for the good of the family. Sometimes we all pitch in to accomplish the work that’s before us.
Now, back to my original point.
Every church, like every person, is unique. Churches have unique callings and opportunities just like people. Christ, in His sovereignty, will bring people to a particular church who have the gifts and passions to accomplish the unique mission of that church. Church leadership should be aware of the gifts within their membership so they can better see how God is leading their church to engage in their mission.
Jesus calls us to a relationship with Him. We don’t initiate the conversation. Jesus comes to us. He calls us to Himself, and He calls us to the work. All of us have spiritual gifts to be used in the mission of the church. These gifts are ours to steward. We’re called to develop and employ our gifts for the greater good of Christ’s kingdom.
That means Christ created us and redeemed us to be somewhere and do something for Him, His church, and His kingdom. We don’t volunteer for anything. We obey. If we’re gifted to work with children, we don’t wait for the minister to call. We report for duty.
If we have the gift of teaching, we study, prepare, and present ourselves for service. We don’t wait to be found. We have a duty to engage. We were created with a purpose, and when we know that purpose, we are Spirit-empowered to accomplish that purpose.
When I first started in ministry, I got pretty good at getting people to “volunteer.” I would persuade, manipulate, guilt trip—whatever I had to do. I could get the positions filled.
But I’ve changed my mind. Too many people got burned out and were frustrated by being in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing.
Now, I talk to people about their gifts, and from there we try to find a place where those gifts can be used. People who use their gifts find the joy of being where Jesus wants them to be and doing what Jesus wants them to do. This brings an energy all its own.
I don’t think the church needs any more volunteers. I believe we need people who are called by Jesus to serve His church and kingdom. We need people who are obedient to that call.
That’s the church I want to pastor—a fellowship of the called, not simply a gathering of volunteers.
Several years ago, marriage therapist John Gray wrote a book titled, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. He tried to explain the difficulties and challenges of marriage by pointing out that men and women come from different planets. Women are from the planet Venus which is named after the goddess of love, and men are from Mars which is named after the god of war. According to Gray, if you understand this basic difference, you have a fighting chance of making your marriage work.
My problem with Gray’s thesis is this: he assumes men and women are from the same universe. Mars and Venus, after all, are in the same galaxy and in the same universe. Physics on Mars works the same way as it does on Venus. This hasn’t been my experience at all. What works in Jeannie’s world doesn’t work in my world at all. We’re not only on different planets, we’re not even in the same universe!
Jeannie is very different than me. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I love all of her differences! I will say, however, it took me a long time to understand just HOW different she is from me. She looks at the world differently than I do. She uses words differently than I do. She uses silences differently than I do. I finally understood Jeannie has her own language, and if I was going to be a good husband, I had to learn to speak her language. I had to learn to speak “Jeannie-ese.”
Couples complain that the other person doesn’t talk to them. A wife will say her husband never talks to her. When I confront the husband about being non-verbal, he’s usually shocked. He’ll tell me he talks to his wife all of the time. She just doesn’t listen.
The truth is he does talk to her. The problem is he’s talking to her in HIS language. She doesn’t understand his language. (Funny, any guy would understand exactly what the husband was saying.) If she’s going to learn to talk to him, the wife is going to have to learn his language. (Yes, grunts count as entire words.)
And if he’s going to understand his wife, he’s going to have to learn to speak her language. (Sometimes, she’ll say, “OK, that’s fine” when it isn’t. A well-trained marriage linguist will recognize the difference.)
Husbands, if you love your wife, learn to speak her language. Sure, she needs to learn your language, but understand that anytime someone wants to speak something deeply important, they always go to their heart language. So, if you really want to know what matters to her, you’ll need to speak her language.
And wives, when he wants to say something important, he’ll speak in his language. Make sure you know what he’s saying.
Learn his language. Learn her language. Every marriage is multi-lingual.
A few weeks ago, we told the story of Barnabas going to Tarsus to find Saul (who would later become Paul) and bring him back to Antioch to teach. We’re told that for a year Paul and Barnabas taught the new disciples in Antioch.
While telling this story, I mentioned that within this story is an important lesson for those of us who follow Christ. Let’s remember Paul’s story. In Acts 9, we have the conversion story of Paul. We have a few short stories of Paul preaching and then, in fear for his life, Paul disappears. In Galatians, Paul tells us that he spent some time in the Arabian deserts studying and trying to understand what the appearance of Jesus meant to him and his new calling in the world.
In the conversion story, Paul is called to be a missionary to the Gentiles. Paul, however, doesn’t begin that ministry until chapter 11. There was some length of time-probably a long length of time-between the calling of Paul and the beginning of his ministry. There was a gap. When Paul was called to the ministry, for whatever reason, he wasn’t yet ready to engage in that ministry.
There were some things Jesus still had to do in Paul’s life. Or, there were some things Christ still had to do in the world for Paul’s preaching to be most effective. So, Paul stayed in Tarsus.
A lot of us have found ourselves in similar situations. Some of us are there now. We’ve been called to a ministry or mission, but for some reason we’re having a difficult time engaging in that ministry. Most of the time, the gap between being called to the ministry and doing that ministry is a time of preparation. Sometimes, it’s a matter of Kingdom timing. We have to remember God is working on every side of the equation. Most of the time, however, time is needed to develop the skills, knowledge, and aptitudes to do the ministry and do it well.
So, if you find yourself in this situation, most likely there is still something that needs to be addressed in your life before the ministry begins. Do a little self-inventory. Is there some character issue that would limit your effectiveness? Is there a skill you need to develop further? Is there some area of knowledge you need to develop or expand?
The gap between being called to a ministry and engaging in that ministry is a gift. Jesus gives us the time we need to do our best for Him. Don’t waste it. Don’t rush through it. Get ready.
The time will come when you won’t have time to get ready. You’ll have to be ready.