Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How May I Serve You?

I swear, regardless of denominational affiliation or the sizes of the congregation, Christians are the laziest people in the world. Part of my job at the church is recruiting volunteers. It’s amazing how quickly people become too busy to help you. Suddenly, something as simple as passing the offering plate becomes some all-consuming activity that does not allow them to help you out.

What I'm really bothered by are the people who are willing to come to a brainstorming session for a ministry, but they are unwilling to do the work to implement the ideas. Everyone thinks they are God’s gift to the church; they have all the answers to what we’re doing wrong, but they are unwilling to act on it.

I’m just venting. I don’t have it as bad as some people I know. I do have a handful of people who have been with the church from nearly the beginning who will do anything I need. They are quiet servants who are more than happy to go without recognition, and being around them is energizing.

It’s those lazy ones that just get to me. My friend Jim created a theory about church plants. You have the first wave of people who are passionate about the vision and will do anything that needs done. (Part of that is out of necessity because there are not a lot of people to do the work). The second wave are people who come and see the first wave doing everything and assume it is all getting done. (Many of these people are who I’m talking about. It’s not that they are unaware of ways they can help serve, it is more that they are unwilling to help serve.) Jim’s theory maintains that eventually there will be a third wave of people who will want to get involved.

[In the name of full disclosure, one thing I can definitely improve on is my ability to recognize potential leaders and empower them to lead in an area they are passionate about. I’m working on that.]

Is the problem all with me and my approach? (An answer I am fully prepared to accept as true.) Or is this unwillingness to serve a symptom of a bigger problem in Christianity? Have we become a people who are only content when things are being fed to us like we’re children?

In his book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Leslie Newbigin says “The priestly people needs a ministering priesthood to sustain and nourish it. Men and women are not ordained to this ministerial priesthood in order to take priesthood away from the people but in order to nourish and sustain the priesthood of the people. Just as we observe one day of the week as ‘the Lord’s Day,’ not in order that the other six days may be left to the devil but in order that they may all belong to the Lord; so we set apart a man or woman to a ministerial priesthood not in order to take away the priesthood of the whole body but to enable it.”

I believe that is true, but there are times that I wonder if too many Christians like the idea of a strong priesthood (or pastors) because they see it as an excuse for inaction. I don’t know how to change that. Maybe I don’t have to. Maybe my Transformational Leadership class this quarter will show me that I have been going about this the wrong way. Maybe I will finally learn how to develop the leaders for the future instead of simply finding the workers for the present. Maybe I will learn that every Christian desperately wants to be an active part of the mission of the church, they just need to be asked in the right way.



MJ said...

"What I'm really bothered by are the people who are willing to come to a brainstorming session for a ministry, but they are unwilling to do the work to implement the ideas. Everyone thinks they are God’s gift to the church; they have all the answers to what we’re doing wrong, but they are unwilling to act on it."

This is not limited to churches; it's been the case in every volunteer organization I've been involved with. Nearly two months ago a new board member with my neighborhood association talked to me enthusiastically for an hour about everything that's wrong with the organization and everything he, personally, is going to do to fix it, because he has Better Ideas than the people who have been running the organization for FORTY YEARS. I handed off the work I was supposed to hand off to him, and haven't heard a word since. :-)

During my time on that board, I saw this happen about once a year: a new person (nearly always a Baby Boomer male) would come in and want to fix everything--as long as all that was involved was brainstorming sessions and "delegating" the work to others (these people are nearly always involved in several other organizations as well, and usually have demanding jobs too). They usually resign in a year or so, bitter and disillusioned and complaining about how nobody listened to them. Of course, in this case that's not entirely unjustified, because there is a tendency on the part of some of the older board members to dismiss anything said by anyone who hasn't lived here for at least 20 years, but in many cases the kind of volunteer you mention brings it upon himself (okay, I'm not even TRYING for gender neutrality here, because I've never seen this particular attitude in a female volunteer in the organizations I've been in).

A lot of them don't seem to have been involved in volunteer work growing up; I suspect that's the case with people who didn't grow up being involved in a church as well. I personally don't go to a church now, but grew up very involved. Every once in a while I talk to some newly converted evangelical who's on 10 committees at his new church, and has lots of Big Ideas, yadda yadda yadda, and it's the same as the new guys in the neighborhood association. I think it's just a personality type--the people with the urge to manage everything, but not the follow-through to actually do the work. I know that sounds judgmental, but I've found that it's best to just take the contributions they offer (they're often VERY generous with their money, for one thing, and some of their ideas really are great, just ill-timed) and be nice to them while they're there. They'll move on soon enough.

Jim said...

Brother, you are singing my life with your words. If you're doing something wrong then I'm doing the exact same thing wrong because I have the exact same issues in my church. Almost nobody will do anything. If it were a large church, then the 80/20 rule would provide us with a better number of people who aren't lazy. It's small though, so we're stuck having the same 25 (it's not even that high actually) who willingly volunteer and wind up doing everything.

So if you discover the big secret (not that I think there is one), you'll post about that too. Right?

John McCollum said...


I'd reiterate mj's comments: this is a problem with our culture; not just with our churches.

Thankfully, both the Asian Tsunami and Katrina have provided Christians ample opportunities to show that your generalization is not entirely accurate.

The day Katrina hit, my small church (less than 200 people) mobilized teams of drivers and volunteers. We filled 3 semi tractor trailers and raised $12,000 within a week.

Within two weeks of the Tsunami, my brother's Christian school in Cincinnati united with the hundreds of churches its attenders represent, and filled a donated cargo plane with tons of relief supplies.

Four years ago, I started an all-volunteer non-profit designed to partner with our hardworking brothers and sisters in Asia. We currently fund three orphanages, a school, three university student leadership centers and various clinics and public health initiatives. Every year, we take 4 ministry trips to Cambodia and Thailand. The 50 or so participants -- doctors, nurses, professionals, students -- all use their vacation days and pay their own way.

While there are certainly problems in certain areas of Christendom -- especially those which have most enthusiastically adopted our culture's ideals of materialism -- if you just look a little harder, you'll see a mighty, multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-denominational army that is engaged and deployed all over the world.

For about 30 years I went to a church which, like yours, was plagued with problems of poor participation and general apathy among the congregants. Having left for greener pastures, I can assure you that the problem was not so much with 'Christians' in general as it is with a certain brand of Christians who have a form of Godliness, but reject its power, and with certain churches that don't present an accurate and compelling vision of what the Gospel really means. Those churches are full of people unwilling to engage suffering and unable to unleash hope.

At any rate, I hope that you accept my comments as an encouragement, rather than a rebuke.

John McCollum said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bobbie said...

i think when we tailor our churches to look like malls people consume church like they consume culture. consumers will never help, never get involved and rarely stick around when the going gets tough.

it's our definition of discipleship that is really where the problem is. the lead pastors are so afraid to offend the wallets of these consumers that they never preach on anything that truly makes disciples, just converts. converts write big, fat checks, disciples get their hands dirty.

we found in ministry that the people who helped were the 'salt of the earth' folk. the upper class, white collar types tend to only want to 'serve' when they get to be profile - on stage, in leadership - visible. none of the behind the scenes jobs for those kind. big fat converts.

epicycle said...

We have the same phenomena at our church, small, yet near a big city. Getting folks to volunteer is difficult. And you are on the right track; it is finding the ministry that they wish to pursue that will get them energized. And it takes a leader to push them to see the ministry they are called to do. That's where you come in.

It's leaders like yourself that can inspire the congregation to get in there and do what needs to be done. And sometimes, it feels as if your pushing a rope uphill.

Hang in there! Keep posting to let us know how you are doing. We'll be there for you.

JeffGeorgia said...

Good blog! I have a different approach. Oh by the way I found your blog through my wives (Bad Alice) blog and my blog is at www.stilljewish.blogspot.com. I think we have too many ministries in the church. I believe we have lost focus on the importance of church and the reason why we have ministries. I think we need to focus on strengthing what we have and teach others how to grow as a christian (using christianeeze words) and witnessing to the lost during the week. I have blogged about this before about the church is not really for the sinners but for the saints and the building of the church. We have some how created church into an organization but it is a BODY. There should only be 2 ministries: Witnessing to the lost and milking the young ones.

But, as far as your frustrations and giving yourself to helping others, thank you.

Question: What would happen if you didn't continue to be the volunteer? It is funny when you are there they take advantage of you and your time but when you are not - they scream for help!

Good luck!

h de m said...

I find this comforting...I am lazy and I am a Christian and I've always wondered why I was lazy. But now I know!

I feel better about it.

ecst1 said...

Ahhh...I've been in theses churches. Those that volunteer are used and abused and those that don't obliviously continue to consume.
I started attending a new church about 5 years ago after a move (definitely in the realm of the emerging movement)and found something amazing. Part of the membership covenant you sign with the church is that you will volunteer time in the ministry you choose. No ifs, ands or buts. If you can't keep up your end of the bargain and make the Body of Christ an hospitable place for the unchurched, then please don't bother.
What started out as a bunch of 20-30 somethings has blossomed into a church with 4000 attendees of all ages and races.
My suspicion, which has been confirmed by many conversations is that the reason people are attracted to this church and stay is because they feel a part of something bigger. They don't consume and leave, they participate. They have a stake in what's happening.
My two cents....

Kev said...

I've got a few skills I've offered to the various churches I attended.
They either ignored me, wouldn't accept my help, or looked down on me.
Now that my schedule won't allow a regular committment to serve every Sunday (or Saturday for that matter) - they're practically begging for help and I can't offer.

Granted, I'm being selfish - I have skills I enjoy using that I've offered to volunteer. I haven't volunteered for other services they need that I could probably do as well.

Plus, I could commit to being there as my schedule allows, but it might happen occassionally that they'd have to find a replacement for me at a moments notice, and I don't like doing that to people for whom I'm volunteering.

William Of Orange said...

We just planted a "new' church in Ottawa, Canada, in an older building. We are just experiencing the first wave. Our initial people are tired but still inspired and faithful. We are deliberately drawing people who are as committed. Others we encourage to move on to a large church where they can sit and do nothing. While we can handle new believers (they love to serve) and mature committed people, we do not have the timeor patience to deal with those who refuse to get involved. itell them all "If you expect to warm your hands at the fire, we expect you to chop wood". BTW, if we are known by our t-shirts, we are in BIG trouble.
Pastor William Oosterman
Book being Written: "the Church, The Cops, and The Pedophile".