Is the Congregation a Volunteer Organization? by Glen Piper

(Editor’s Note: This is from Glen Piper’s blog Territorial Bloggings.)


This is an interesting question. It’s also a pertinent one, that many congregations, and congregational leaders, have to deal with this time of year as voters assemblies deliberate & vote on officers & administrative boards for next year.

On the face of it, the question seems like a simple one with a simple answer. Of course, it’s a volunteer organization. Right? After all, we are a congregational polity, with supreme voters assemblies – i.e., we’re not led by professional church workers.

I contend, however, that our local congregations ARE NOT volunteer organizations, not as we have come to commonly understand the term/word “volunteer”.

I posit that the currently held understandings of “volunteer” and “volunteer organization” are such that the individual volunteering holds the position of power. IOW, they get to call the shots because they are ponying up their time.

This means that, if volunteers want to do task “X”, then they get to do task “X”. Volunteer organizations, then, are built on, and couldn’t exist without, these individuals; therefore, they are indebted to them to such an extent that they can’t/shouldn’t question the skills or suitability of the volunteer to task “X”.

I further posit that local congregations have fallen into the trap of viewing “volunteerism”, as it applies to congregational service & leadership, in this way. This is a very dangerous and detrimental thing.

Why dangerous & detrimental? Because it creates an environment wherein folks feel entitled to do what they want, and only what they want, without question or check. If Bobbi Sue wants to join Parish Ed, then who has the right to tell her she can’t? After all, she’s volunteering! She doesn’t understand teaching or curriculum? Has a beef with the current Sunday School Superintendent & the DCE? Doesn’t matter – she’s a volunteer! Bubba Joe wants to get on the Board of Elders? He’s been feuding with the Pastor? Or openly shacking up with the girlfriend that he left his wife for? Doesn’t matter — he’s volunteering!

Unfettered volunteering, and the uncritical acceptance of it, puts the local congregation at greater risk of conflict, unrest, and discontent. It’s not good practice. Worst of all, it’s not Biblical. 1 Corinthians is rife with examples of how congregational life should work. Of particular relevance is 1 Cor. 10:23-24 — while ostensibly dealing with eating meat, it also applies to the general topics of Christian freedom, love for one another, and submission to one another in the Gospel.

When we offer to serve in the congregation, it should be gladly and willingly, in full knowledge and submission to our brothers and sisters in the congregation. We may very well think we have gifts in a certain area (and, indeed, we may); however, we must submit to those congregational leaders who have a knowledge of what is needed & where, so that the proper mix can be found to best serve the congregation. If our “volunteering” would cause a weaker brother offense, then we ought not serve. And we ought not take offense ourselves when such is lovingly pointed out to us.

Leadership in a congregation is an arduous task, even in the best of circumstances. Rewarding and necessary, to be sure, but always arduous, and far too often stressful, difficult, and even painful. In this respect it’s a vocation just like any other on this side of heaven. That all said, it’s still necessary.

As such, it would behoove us to always remember that we need to carry out that vocation faithfully, even at its most difficult. Taking the path of least resistance is not an option. Neither is capitulating to societal definitions, understandings, or practices in how we go about executing those vocations.

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