I have a debate that goes on in my head whenever the head of a children’s ministry gets up in front of church and says she needs workers. She usually adds, “Remember, the children of the church are the future of the church.” I picture overcrowded rooms and harried workers trying to lead wayward 18-month-olds down hallways. The same debate plays when I read an email about a new ESL class needing volunteers one night a week. A new women’s ministry Bible study…a six week class on the topic of grace…a missions team fundraiser lunch…the same debate rages. It’s a relief when I see a blurb advertising a community group specifically for moms of newborns–but the debate begins to whisper even there: maybe those young moms need mentors!
I think you can guess at least part of my debate because I bet the same one goes through your head in similar situations. The debate starts with Is this something I should do? It goes to Shouldn’t I do this out of duty even if I don’t want to do it? It continues with Is duty a good reason to do anything? This is followed by If I choose not to do this, should I feel guilty about it? If your debate doesn’t look exactly like mine, it’s probably pretty similar. As long as we live in this culture, and especially as long as we attend church, we will hear appeals for help, and we need to know what to do with them.
For what it’s worth, here’s how I usually handle my debate.
Is this something I should do?
When I first hear of a need, I ask myself a few questions. Have I prayed about this, and do I feel led by God to do this? If I helped, would I be using my God-given gifts? When I think of my highest priorities (God, family, community, work, and rest), do I have time to do this? If the answer to all these questions is a definite no, the answer is clear–no, I shouldn’t do this.
If not, though, I consider each one. First, I find it important to pray and ask God for wisdom about whether to commit to something or not. Prayer doesn’t always give me a quick answer. I have to wait for God’s leading and really open my heart and mind to His answer. I have to take the time to listen. He does promise wisdom, though, to those who ask with full trust in Him: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5).
Second, Romans 12:6 says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” I feel especially strong about the God-given gifts. I have heard enough community group speakers and children’s church teachers who don’t have the gift of teaching (the latter of which have for a time made my children hate going to church) that I try to stay away from those areas in which I am not gifted. We exercise our gifts according to the grace given to us, not according to the grace not given to us. On the other hand, if those who have the gift of teaching don’t use it, somebody is going to have to take their place. It’s important to find out how God has gifted you (ask God, do inventories, ask honest people around you to tell you your strengths) and find a way to use that gift. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should say yes to every opportunity in your area of gifting.
Finally, time is an important factor with which I have been known to struggle. It’s not always easy for me to figure out how much I can do in the time I have every day. My family would say that’s an understatement. I make a list of all I want to accomplish in a day, and by the end, I usually find I’ve been too ambitious. Combine this with the fact that I’m more event-oriented than time-oriented (academic talk for being more focused on finishing an event than on the clock), and you can see why I’m continually running late. The main reason I stay semi-on-time is, unfortunately, my desire to please others and appear that I’m on top of things. I wish I could say it was solely out of love for those who might have to wait for me, although that is a factor, too. Therefore, when I have to decide about taking on something new, I do better when I talk to my husband and/or godly friends to help me gain a clearer picture of what I have time to do.
What if I come to end of this and still wonder the questions about duty that I mentioned before? When do we do something out of duty, leaning on God for help when we struggle with it because we have little ability or time? Should we ever do that? It would be too much for one post if I dealt with all that here, so come back next week if you’ve ever asked these questions yourself and want to struggle through them with me.
Comment if you have other ways of deciding what you should or shouldn’t do when you are asked to volunteer for something. Have you ever dealt with this issue?