When Not to Volunteer

5 critical guidelines for evaluating ministry choices
When Not to Volunteer
Image: PEARL / LIGHTSTOCK

Children’s ministry is not my thing. I used to feel guilty because I didn’t enjoy singing “Jesus Loves Me” with preschoolers and had no interest in teaching Bible stories using finger puppets.

My guilt spurred me on to volunteer for Vacation Bible School and other children’s programs thinking, Because I have kids, this is where I should serve.

I was wrong. Just because God gave me children doesn’t mean he expects me to teach second-grade Sunday school, and the same is true for you.

We are each uniquely made and uniquely gifted.

However, when we hear of a ministry need, unwarranted guilt often kicks in, and we take on a role that was not meant for us.

It’s vital that we give careful thought to the areas in which we serve. It’s healthy to weigh our talents and passions against the service opportunities placed before us. If we spend all of our time serving in a place we are not meant to serve, we end up wasting the gifts God has given us. Even the apostle Paul encourages us to serve in the areas we are gifted (see Romans 12:6–8).

Deciding whether to serve in a certain area is not always easy, but these five statements can serve as a good yardstick when considering a new commitment.

1. Your No Might Lead to a Yes for Someone Else

For the past decade, I’ve been involved in a weekly women’s Bible study. When our leader, Deanna, stepped down several years ago after her daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I took her place (along with a co-leader). I could name a number of women whom I thought were a much better fit than I was, but, for a variety of reasons, they all said no. Their discerning decisions to say no led to my decision to say yes.

It was terribly uncomfortable for me at first. Nervous butterflies and feelings of inadequacy were the norm at the beginning, but over time I grew to enjoy it. This is often the case; sometimes we must grow into our gifts. Serving beyond our comfort zone can lead to the development of gifts we didn’t even know we had.

When Deanna returned, we became a team and now take turns teaching and leading discussion. I have discovered that I truly enjoy digging into God’s Word, studying commentaries, and reading sermons to gain knowledge that I can share with the group.

Before saying yes to a ministry opportunity because you feel guilty, consider that your no might be the nudge someone else needs to discover a gift.

2. Overcommitment May Lead to Resentment and Exhaustion

God isn’t glorified when our “service” renders us resentful and exhausted rather than drawing us nearer to him. When Moses was leading the Israelites after the Exodus, his father-in-law, Jethro, saw that Moses had taken on too much and confronted him, encouraging him to give up some of his responsibilities to others (see Exodus 18). Moses wisely took Jethro’s advice, and we are wise to heed it as well.

Like many people, I have a heart for missions. After serving on our church’s missions team for a number of years, I was asked to lead it. Knowing that no one else was interested, I agreed.

Eventually, though, the stress of trying to keep up with family life and other commitments in addition to the new pressure of being the decision maker on missions spending left me resenting the fact that I’d taken the position. I dreaded team meetings, and my service in missions became more of an unwanted chore than a way to support those actively being the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus. I eventually stepped down.

In hindsight, I see that I should not have taken on that role. If you find yourself in a role that is depleting you spiritually, it is okay to step down. Use that tough experience to help you gauge whether or not to take on new service opportunities in the future.

3. There Are No Sacred Cows

For many years, a woman in our congregation was passionate about the Christmas program. She wrote a new script every fall and made sure each child had a speaking part. She put her heart into that program, and it was always quite an elaborate performance.

When her family left our church, there was no one who chose to take over her position. Would it even be possible to fully celebrate Christmas without the beloved children’s program? I assure you it was. Christmas still happened. God was still worshiped within our community of believers. The birth of Christ was still honored and revered.

It can be hard to see a program end. Change stretches our church bodies and can often be painful for a congregation. Yet it can be beautiful to see our God worshiped in new ways within the church. Sometimes declining a service opportunity is the catalyst for a good change.

4. Filling a Need Is Not a Forever Commitment

Sometimes looking at service opportunities with the end goal in mind can help us assess if we should take on tasks that don’t fit our gifts and passions. For example, maybe your church is starting a new program that doesn’t suit your giftedness but it requires many volunteers to get it started. You could commit to help if you view it as a temporary assignment from the start.

Several years ago, our church began a midweek children’s ministry. Because this was something I was excited to see happen and because there was a real need, I volunteered to lead the fifth grade group. There was not one single Wednesday morning that I woke up and thought, Yay! I get to teach children’s church tonight. Yet I served to the best of my abilities anyway.

At the end of the year, I stepped down. The program has since grown, and the current leaders are gifted in ways I am not. I love the fact that my youngest son looks forward to Wednesday evening church. Through his experience, I reap the blessings of the small role I played in getting a new program on its feet.

With the right perspective, we can comfortably commit to short periods of serving instead of fully committing to long-term positions that will ultimately drain us.

5. God Blessed You with Specific Gifts and Passions for a Reason

My husband is passionate about music. He is a talented worship leader with a gift of mentoring musicians. When we were first married, we were involved in a very large church where his musical talents weren’t needed and the capacity in which he did end up serving didn’t utilize his gifts. We eventually moved to a smaller church where Corey began serving as a worship leader in a regular rotation, and his service is now a blessing to many people.

If you find yourself in a situation in which your God-given gifts or talents are not being utilized, consider where they could be used to bless others. Changing churches is a big deal and that may not be the answer for your specific situation. It’s possible that God wants to use your gifts outside of the church right now. For example, if music is your gift, maybe mentoring young musicians is the path he has for you. If you’re gifted in computers and design, maybe your talents can be used to bless a nonprofit with a free webpage or brochure.

Serving God within the church is great, but using our gifts to draw the world toward Christ is equally important.

Our Gifts Are Purposeful

Choosing where and when to serve can be tricky. There are certainly seasons in our lives when we must serve in capacities that make us uncomfortable, that challenge our thinking, or that even bore us.

Yet God didn’t intend for our service to him to be drudgery. He was purposeful in choosing the gifts he gave each of us, and when we allow those gifts rather than our misplaced guilt to lead the way, we will be blessed and will bless others.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Kim Harms

Kim Harms is a regular contributor for Today's Christian Woman and freelance writer living in Iowa with her husband and three sons. In addition to writing, she operates 500 Dresses, a ministry providing clothing and sewing supplies to women and children living in poverty. Kim can be found online at KimHarms.net or on Twitter at @kimharmsboymom.

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