The Bible specifically lists three types of church servant-leaders: pastors, elders and deacons. Their qualifications are listed clearly in Titus 1:6-8, 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Peter 5:1-4. Other servant roles such as Sunday School teacher, greeter, nursery worker are not commissioned by the Bible. They have become necessary for the way the American church functions, and there is nothing wrong with serving in those positions, but if one chooses not to serve in those ways, they are not necessarily lazy, hurting or feeling useless.
All of us are called to certain behaviors that build up the body of the church:
- fellowship together (Hebrews 10:25)
- worshipping together (Acts 2:42)
- praying for each other (James 5:16)
- being accountable to each other (Galatians 6:1-2)
- confessing sins to each other (James 5:16)
- exhorting each other (1 Thessalonians 2:11)
- providing for each other's needs (I John 3:17)
- caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27)
- encouraging each other (Hewbrews 3:13)
- chastising in love (Matthew 18:15)
- submitting to leadership (Hebrews 13:17)
When we partake in these behaviors, we are serving the church according to the call upon our lives. How we do these things may indeed occur within other volunteer activities such as teaching Sunday School, leading a Bible study or preparing meals. But they don't have to fall into those confines of volunteerism. You may take a fellow church-goer to coffee for prayer and encouragement. You may go for a walk and fellowship together. Maybe you'll sit around a fire and sing songs together.
The church we serve is not the building and the activities inside of it. The church we serve is the body of believers around the world. Let us not confuse our calling to build up the body with man's desire to build a fancy building and create an exhaustive list of programs.
We can actually serve in a myriad of church programs and never grow in our relationship with Christ. We can become comfortable in our chosen area of service and perhaps never discover the exciting, invigorating journey of faith for which God has purposed us. I'm not saying this will happen, but I am saying it could happen, and sometimes does.
It bothers me that church officials, be they pastors, consultants, administrators or other professional, are pushing people so hard to serve within the walls of the church. Church-goers feel pressure and guilt to help where their pastor has asked or where the administrator has indicated and could give up their real ministry calling. They could actually forsake serving God for serving man.
For example, let's say Charlie Church-Goer takes McDonald's to the local park every Sunday before he goes to church. There he sits with the hungry, homeless people. He provides Homeless Hank with a hot meal and spends time getting to know them. In doing so, the homeless person is physically fed, receives compassion and love, and feels like he is worthwhile to someone. Charlie Church-Goer is being Jesus to Homeless Hank. Then, one Sunday, Charlie's pastor issues a guilt trip from the pulpit. He says the church needs greeters and people to serve coffee before the start of service because people need to feel welcome or they won't come to church. After the service, Pushy Pastor comes to Charlie and says, "Charlie, you're an early-riser, you really should consider being a greeter and coffee server. We need good people like you, Charlie. And you never miss a Sunday. You're always here a little bit early and I noticed you're not serving the church by volunteering right now. Without people like you we just can't make our members and our guests feel welcome in God's house." So, Charlie Church-Goer submits to Pushy Pastor's request and instead of spending time with and feeding Homeless Hank, he goes to the church building.
Is there anything wrong with holding open doors for those coming to church? Pouring coffee for them? Shaking hands and warmly welcoming them? Of course not! No! Not at all! But Charlie already had a ministry. It wasn't within the walls of the church, it wasn't part of an official church program, it may not have an effect on the membership roster, but it was service and it was ministry.
All of us are called to ministry. All of us are called to service. Your ministry might be at your job. Your service might be in the community. It might even be at your home. We are all called to serve the body of Christ. That may include singing on worship team or passing out bulletins. But serving the body of Christ does not have to mean volunteering within your church.
Am I saying you should forsake your volunteer efforts? Quit worship team? Stop showing up to teach Sunday School? No! Not at all! That would be horrible! But if you are called to serve outside the walls, then go serve. And don't let guilt or pressure change your mind. God has not called all of us to do the same things in the same way.
We need to recognize that some church-goers are serving outside the building. Some of them are immersed in a ministry we'll never experience because it's not for us. And we need to stop labeling those people as lazy, useless or hurting.
The Pharisees were enraged at Christ's service outside the religious community. He ate with beggars, tax collectors, prostitutes. He healed the sick on the Sabbath. He taught the crowds wherever they gathered, not just inside the temple. He made disciples. He didn't follow all of their religious rules on how to serve, whom to serve and when to serve. He didn't just pontificate on what it means to serve nor did He just sit and discuss theology. He went out into the world and He served everyone around Him. And He was put to death because of it.
Our religious leaders will likely not kill you for not volunteering in the church. But you may experience persecution in the form of guilt, shunning or exclusion. That is on them, not you. That is their human failure, their brokenness, their mess. Not yours.
God wants us to BE the church.So, go, BE what He has called you to be. Do what He has called you to do. Pick up your cross and follow Him where-ever He leads whether it's into that preschool Sunday School room or to a third-world country or to the park full of homeless people. Just go, do the thing He's asked you to do, be the person He's asked you to be.