The key difference between the volunteer and the staff worker

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I saw this helpful thread from Tim Wilson, the other day about how to volunteer in church life without burning out. 

One useful observation he made was that church members shouldn’t compare what they are able to commit to with what a paid member of staff such as the pastor or youth worker can do.  Marcus Honeysett joined in, observing that paid workers themselves should be careful not to place expectations on volunteer workers based on what they are able to cover.

I agree with what both Tim and Marcus have to say. However, I wonder if a slightly different perspective on full time Gospel work and volunteering might help.  First of all, whilst we talk about volunteering because that’s perhaps the easiest way of describing things, I think we’d all agree that it isn’t a brilliant description of church involvement.  It makes it sound a bit like the church is just another voluntary community organisation or charity and people give a bit of spare time to it.  I don’t think that’s what Christians are really thinking or doing when they get involved.  Rather, they are saying that the church is their community, their extended family and they are part of it.  However, that’s the word we have to distinguish those who are paid to free them up from other concerns and those who do a paid job and then give time to church life.

One reason why, although I end up using the word, I’m not comfortable with the “volunteer” tag is that it can give the impression that the paid staff are the professionals who do the work in the church, they preach, lead Bible studies, run youth groups, head up children’s work and carry out pastoral visits.  The bulk of what a church does is done by them.  Volunteers then come along and do more of the same in order to try and extend the ministry capacity of the pastor and staff. This means that we also tend to think about adding staff workers when there are jobs that need doing, ministries that need running. I don’t think this is a healthy way of viewing church life and is exactly the kind of mindset that’s going to lead to the problems Tim and Marcus raise.

So, my suggestion is this.  What if we think of all of the work that needs doing in the church as being first and foremost the responsibility of the church members.  If someone happens to do some preaching and some pastoral counselling, they do it, not because it’s their job but because they are a member of the church.

What then is their job?  My view is that their paid role, the reason you bring them onto staff is to multiply gifts and workers. Their job is to get more members of the church actively involved by discerning gifts, encouraging people to use them, training and equipping them, mentoring and supporting them and being there as back up. 

If the pastoral staff are doing this, it means a couple of things. First, it means that we are less likely to see one or two volunteers overburdened because the staff team are responsible for finding more people to share the load.

Secondly, it means that we are less likely to suffer from that temptation to attempt to either place to heavy an expectation on “volunteers” or to try to keep up with the workload of “staff.” You see, we’ll recognise that we are attempting to compare between two different things instead of like for like. 

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