The Insider’s Guide to Volunteering

There is one person in every group who has mastered the art of slacking.  You have been cleaning up the kitchen for an hour, and the slacker comes near the end, “Anything I can do to help?”  They dry two glasses and say something like, “Many hands make light work!”  In your job, when a work team forms, you cringe when you get “the slacker” on your team, because you know you will have to pull their weight, but everyone gets credit.  I dreaded group projects in school, where my grade depended on someone who partied and waited till the last minute to do their part. If you have a sense of responsibility, you can be taken advantage of and resentment can build up.  Fortunately, this never happens in church, right!


Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a land owner who pays everyone the same amount, no matter how long they worked.  Madness!  That’s Communism!  Human nature doesn’t work that way.  What will this land owner do the next day, when nobody shows up for work until noon, and still expects a full day’s pay?  He is destroying the incentive system for hard work.  You can make a strong case that Jesus would support a living wage, but would union members vote for this plan to pay people the same no matter how many hours they worked?


No one is going to run their business this way, but let’s be fair with Jesus.  Wages in America make no sense either.  Women make 80% of what men make. Women truck drivers make 80% of male truck drivers.  Women Financial planners only make 69% what men make giving financial advice.  In social work, where women hold more than 80% of the jobs, men still make 15% more than women.


When you think of day labors, who comes to mind first?  Immigrants, many who are without legal citizenship.  Some think hiring immigrants is unfair, and takes jobs from citizens.  Would Jesus say they are the workers in the parable who came late, without whom the harvest wouldn’t be gathered.  The story was in the Washington Post recently:

A carpenter from El Salvador sits on a curb outside a home improvement store, hoping a passer-by will offer $10 an hour to help rip out sewage-soaked carpets or rotting drywall. He believes Texas is as good a place as any to seek refuge, because that’s where the work is now, even if some government officials want him and others like him to leave the country.

When asked if he is worried about being deported, he said, “If they deport all of us, who will rebuild?” says Enríquez, 36, waiting along with about two dozen other laborers seeking work. “We do more for less.” Full Story

We can tease out many possibilities from the text, but what was Jesus thinking about?

He is talking his disciples about how their sense of unfairness can get in the way of God’s work.  Here is what happened in chapter 19 of Matthew.  A rich young ruler engages Jesus.  He seems like a really good guy.  He keeps all the commandments, but senses there is still more to being a moral person, so he says to Jesus, “What do I lack?  Is there another board or team I could join? Do you need me to do coffee hour?  Do you have a capital campaign coming up?  Just tell me what else I should do Jesus.”


 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[c] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  Matt. 19:21-22


Peter takes this in, and he says what others likely think, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Peter doesn’t have a 401K, and the only Social Security is Jesus’s words, look at the lilies of the field, see the sparrows, God will take care of you too.  At least the disciples had free health care, since Jesus could heal them.  (Which I think is the new plan in the Senate.) Jesus is reassuring to Peter that they will receive one hundredfold of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it isn’t about money or power.


Fairness, in Jesus mind, means everyone deserves a place, an extravagant welcome.  We need everyone to bring in the harvest, no matter when they show up.  Being status seeking, and worried about getting a fair share diminishes community.  That is why the rich young ruler must give up everything to join, because Peter and friends left their boats and jobs too.


How might this lesson apply to our journey of discipleship together?   We are focused on recruiting volunteers this month.  Resentment and unfairness can be big issues when it comes to getting the work of the church done.  If we say we have an extravagant welcome, you are welcome here no matter who you are, it also means no matter how much volunteer work you can do.  But we still need to get the work done, and too often a few dedicated souls carry the load.  Burnout and resentment  follow.  How do we stay an inviting, joyful community but still have enough volunteers for coffee hour and the church fair?


Here is my solution from the parable.  From now on everyone gets paid, just like the laborers in the vineyard.  All volunteers at First Churches, from this moment on get paid.  How does that work in the budget?  Here is what a professional volunteer coordinator says:


“All of your volunteers must be paid, if you don’t pay them, they will quit and do something else….No one works for free.  The difference between volunteers and staff is in how they are paid.”


Volunteers are often paid with good relationships, a sense of making an important difference, a chance to develop new skills and interests, belonging, being in the tribe.  Businesses know that money alone is never the sole factor in retaining good workers.  People like to work and volunteer where they feel valued.  Volunteering to do something makes people more happy.  In one study, people who volunteer once a month are 7 percent more likely to say they are very happy than people who don’t volunteer.  People who volunteer twice a month are 12 percent more happy, and people who volunteer every week are 16 percent more likely to report they are very happy.  Researchers said this hike in happiness levels is equivalent to the reported happiness of boosting your income from $20,000 to $75,000 annually.  Who says volunteers are not well paid for their labor?


The Kingdom of God runs on generosity.  People are more productive and happy when they feel they are freely giving of themselves, and they have already chosen how they get paid.  This is important.  You decide what you want to do, and how you want to be paid.  Do it well and do it joyfully, don’t look at anyone else, and know your limits.


I’m a volunteer.  For the last year, I was a member of the Massachusetts Conference Board of Directors.  I gave them 12-15 days a year.  That was after my full-time work, on evenings and Saturdays, and I had to drive to Framingham.  Why would I do that?  I learned about the best practices of other churches, I have some great friends I would not have met, and the satisfaction of making a difference.  I got paid.  Now my term is up, and I’m glad.  I want to do other things.  I’ve been passionate about affordable housing and homelessness my whole life, and now I can chair the Mayor’s Housing Partnership for affordable housing, and volunteer with the Friends of the Homeless.


Do I sometimes feel resentful?  Of course!  I get frustrated when other people don’t commit and carry what I think is their fair share.  And then I stop and say, “Did I chose to do this?  Is this what I love?”  If the answer is “yes” then I let it go and forge ahead with all my heart and soul.  Almost everything I do is what I want to do.  Some things I don’t like to do, but I love my job and my community, and I will do things what I don’t like to keep all the things that I am passionate about.  And some things aren’t worth it and I say “no thank you.”  I can’t be a pastor, save the environment, house the homeless, protect immigrants and pick up the trash on the street.  I do my thing, I trust in the generosity of God, and  I trust that other generous souls will do theirs, and that is how the economy of God works.  When it is time for the harvest, Say “yes” with all your heart, say “no” when you are at your limit, and together we will harvest the Beloved Community.





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