Volume 53 Number 3 , May 1, 2004

Why I Am Not A Volunteer

Mike Bowling

I am from Tennessee. People from Tennessee are proud of their heritage of “volunteerism”; so much so that the nickname of the University of Tennessee is the Tennessee Volunteers (real fans shorten the name to “Vols”). Go Vols! It is a fine cultural heritage, but I must decline this designation regarding my relationships and participation in the church.

When I became a Christian, God added me to His family. All other identities were subjugated to this one. I am bound by God’s Spirit to my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh...for all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:12-14) The word “obligation” means “to be bound”. This is the polar opposite of the word “volunteer” which means “to give one’s self to a task under no obligation. These observations are more than just semantics. In a day when people fill up their schedules, critical decisions must be made between obligations and volunteering. These are decisions which not only affect our daily lives together, but they also depict our true convictions concerning our identity in Christ.

Our world consists of many voluntary associations. We distinguish our relationship to family from our involvement in voluntary associations. Matter of fact, the most common excuse given for not volunteering is not enough time due to family obligations. I would include work obligations for most people as a subset of family obligations. Therefore, how I view my participation in the church depends on how I view my relationship to the church. Is the church family, or is it another association to which I belong?

The message of Ephesians 2 is that we were once alienated from God and thus alienated from one another, but in Christ that which separated us from God and one another was removed. We are now part of “God’s household” (verse 19). We are separated out of the world in order for God to reveal His wisdom to the world (Eph. 3:10). If we reduce our identity with the church to that of a voluntary association, we obscure God’s witness to the world through us.

Many will see all of this as much ado about nothing, but we must become sensitive to the ways in which our choice of words reveal our real convictions. Our recruiting of volunteers in the church suggests a level of expectations concerning our relationships which fall far short of what is revealed in the New Testament. Is it any wonder our resulting stories are less than spectacular?

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