Volunteering changed my life. That may sound like an overstatement, but it’s true.
I was 13 years old. Summer Magic, a children’s program offered by Burnaby Parks and Recreation, was the highlight of my year. I spent warm summer days working one-on-one with a boy with autism. Derek and I splashed in the wading pool, made crafts with empty egg cartons and pipe cleaners, and survived a meltdown or two. His mom heartily thanked me each day with a hug and a smile.
What did I gain from the experience? I learned to better understand people, and to deal with difficult situations. I also made some lifelong friends. But most of all, I had fun. And that fun has continued throughout my life, as I’ve freely offered my services in many different places.
WorldVolunteerWeb.org lists several benefits of volunteering, including being part of the community, gaining a sense of achievement, boosting career options, finding new interests and hobbies, meeting a diverse range of people, and showing others what you’re passionate about. But, in the end, I think volunteering is just plain fun!
It’s clear from Scripture that God calls us to serve one another (Romans 12, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 6:7). As we share our gifts with others – at no cost to them – we practice obedience to Jesus.
But volunteering can also be life-giving for the ones who serve. Isn’t it ironic that serving others can feel self-serving? Some may say this will lead to an unhealthy what’s-in-it-for-me mentality, but I choose to see it as a gift from our Creator. God blesses us as we bless others.
Finding a place to serve
In the past, Christians have conveyed the message that volunteering in the church (or with a parachurch organization) trumped other volunteer opportunities. But this inward focus is beginning to change, says Ontario board of church extension director Terry Wiseman.
For the builder generation, the health of the denomination was all-important. For boomers, it was the health of the local church. For the emerging generation, the focus is moving more and more to the health of the broader community. Now, when we think about volunteer opportunities, we’re free to think of serving with government agencies, local libraries, sports clubs, hospitals, art galleries, Big Brothers, and more.
When I was a pastor in Abbotsford, I donated 4 hours of my workweek to the local elementary school, where I helped in a class of kids with special needs. As church staff, we felt it was important to move into the community and do something to benefit the larger society, rather than just the congregation. We wanted to send the message that we valued – and contributed to – the welfare of our city.
“Whether a church program or not, if it’s redemptive, it is in the realm of God’s will for us as a church and individuals,” says Wiseman.
Leaders often bemoan the fact they can’t find volunteers to serve local church programs, and that volunteerism in the church is suffering. But perhaps we need to change our perspective. What if Christians felt the freedom to use their gifts wherever the Holy Spirit led – even outside the church’s four walls? What if, in the spirit of Jeremiah 29:7, churches unleashed their members to serve the local community, believing that God wanted to work through his church to bless the world and prosper the city?
I think we’d see volunteers who were empowered and fulfilled… and having fun!