If you’re a gardener, you know what a volunteer is. (I’m not talking about a neighbor who helps you pull weeds). A volunteer is a plant that pops up without being planted. They come from an original plant whose seeds scatter by wind, birds or other natural means. Composters know that vegetables often pop up in their piles after recycling melon rinds or rotten tomatoes.
PLANTS THAT DON’T NEED PLEAS
I never have to beg my volunteers to pop up in the garden. There is no pleading. They sprout and happily begin growing. Have you ever heard your pastor implore people to fill a spot? I was at a church one summer where there was an announcement that “we STILL need VBS volunteers.” Why would a church get on bended knee and ask its members to serve children in a legitimate ministry?
Mature disciples don’t wait to be cajoled or coaxed into ministry. They know they have been “called with a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9). They step up to service. They do not shrink back.
A HEALTHY PLANT PRODUCES VOLUNTEERS
A lot of congregations act like civic clubs, eating fried chicken and doing occasional service projects. On the other hand, the scripture declares that we are “God’s field” (I Corinthians 3:9) standing as ”oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3). Did you know that a large oak can drop up to 10,000 acorns during a good year? Not all those acorns will become full-grown trees, but many will.
Disciples make disciples. That’s what Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission. If we do not reproduce followers of Jesus Christ by modeling, teaching, mentoring and serving, then we are missing a huge part of what it means to be a disciple.
SOMETIMES, WE NEED TO UPROOT
My garden is full of volunteer plants. Sometimes I have to prune them back so they don’t take over; other times I don’t want the plant in that particular spot and I will dig it out.
We need to have the courage to do this in church, too. Sometimes, projects and ministries that were started eons ago no longer serve any purpose. They may be listlessly carried on by a handful of members who remember “always doing it this way” or feel the program is still valid, even though it is producing little to no fruit.
Years ago, a member in a small-town church had been the chairman of a particular committee for a while. After I arrived as his pastor, I asked him what his group had done. The answer was, essentially, very little. After giving him some guidance, I checked back with him several months later to find out that he and his group had taken none of my recommendations. Indeed, they hadn’t even met! I disbanded the committee. The chairman protested because “we’ve always had this committee in the church.” I told him, “Look, it doesn’t seem you have a burning passion to do this. If you aren’t doing the work, then I have to conclude that you don’t feel God calling you. If that changes, let me know.”
If discipleship is confined to committee work and in-church volunteerism, then we are drinking the lite version of Christianity. The church should be a fertile greenhouse for growth, helping people connect with their call, discover and use their spiritual gifts and scatter seeds of faith, hope and love beyond their sanctuary walls. Like a nurseryman who trains a vine on a trellis, Spirit-empowered pastors and mature lay leaders can help train up the people in the pews so they do not remain perennial seedlings, but “grow up in every way into…Christ (Ephesians 4:15 ESV), the Master Husbandman.
Is your church a seedbed of spiritual growth? Or is it a nice little place to see your friends, hear a sermon and go home? The first model will change the world. I would make an argument that the second model is hardly even a church.
Scripture references courtesy of Bible Gateway