Super-size Your Volunteer Base

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By Eddie Lowen

In August 2014, our church raised up 700-plus brand-new volunteers and commissioned our entire volunteer force for a new era of volunteer ministry. Below are excerpts of the talk I delivered at Volunteer Bootcamp 2014. Readers are welcome to adapt and use it.

When Marshall Faulk played college football at San Diego State, he entered training camp as the team’s fifth-string tailback, eventually working his way up to second-string. Early one game, the starting tailback was injured, so the coach gave Faulk the nod. The rest is football history.

In the remaining three and one-half quarters, Faulk scored seven touchdowns and ran for 386 yards. Faulk went on to have a terrific NFL career and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But as a young man, one of the best running backs in football history was a benchwarmer.

I don’t want that to happen at our church. I believe there is breakout potential in the pool of volunteers we have, but everyone must be ready to enter the game.

I know, I know. You’re busy. That’s because . . . you’re alive. Everyone is busy! I know there are times when a person needs to step back because of a crisis or a need for balance. But I truly believe God is ready to see some other things in our lives “go” before we stop volunteering to strengthen Jesus’ church.

Would it surprise you to know that, after Marshall Faulk’s breakout game with seven touchdowns, he did not start the following two games? That’s a coaching error! That’s a leadership mistake!

Our staff doesn’t want to be the reason you don’t volunteer. We are doing several things to make it more inviting. We’re making our church’s vision clearer than ever. We’re giving every team member meaningful responsibility. And we’re matching people to their passions and strengths. (All right, we’re also giving you a T-shirt. We’ve learned we can own you if we offer a T-shirt.)

Friend, we are convinced God wants our congregation to be an even greater vessel of love and truth to our community. We are certain greater things are yet to be done in this city—through us. But that can’t happen if we have no time for it.

Tonight I want to introduce you to The Code. We want a way to capture the values that make volunteering here more than routine. So we’ve developed The Code. Here it is:

At our church, a volunteer’s first value is: Jesus is the rock star—we are the roadies.

I coined that phrase a few months ago when I talked about how a church must be known for Jesus—not the pastor, not the building, and not its activities. We all must focus on this. Our obsession must be—as one church says it so well—to make Jesus famous.

So, as we volunteer, we do it with an air of humble service. Jesus said, “Will he [the master] thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:9, 10).

When people ask what kind of church ours is, I want people who don’t know many church words to say, “It’s a Jesus kind of church. Those people remind me of Jesus.” We have one great obsession around here. We have one hero. We have one rock star: Jesus.

So, who is our rock star? Jesus. I can’t HEAR you! Jesus! Hey, it’s Boot Camp, so that’s how we roll tonight. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus rocks!

The second thread of The Code is: It’s not about me.

Have you ever noticed, some people do their jobs in a way that communicates they are in charge—and you most definitely are not? Your volunteer role here can’t become your little kingdom. It can’t be about your ego or authority. Even if you’re in charge of where people park, you must make them want to follow your instruction.

When you die and rise from the dead under your own power, you can start a church that makes you famous. Until then, this place is not about you. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” The funny thing about that verse is the next sentence, which pretty much repeats the one you just read. God knows we need to hear it more than once.

Lloyd Bridges played a character on Seinfeld who famously asked, “Do you think you’re better than me?” Well, you are. In the church, we serve others by considering them better than us.

Here’s the third part of The Code: I am the church.

Paul told the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Do you remember how we used to depict the church when we were kids? Get ready. Now, form a church with your fingers. Now let’s say it: “This is the church. This is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people.”

There’s just one problem with that little exercise: the building and steeple are not the church. You are the church. I’m part of it, too. We are the church. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s misleading book filled with goofy theories and theology, there was an interesting plot twist regarding the character’s search for the Holy Grail. Many considered it to be the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, but Brown portrayed the Holy Grail as a person.

Jesus said he came to create and build a church. But it’s not a building or a list of activities. The church is a community. It’s a movement. It’s alive and breathing. You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of Jesus’ church.

Here’s another important value: Extra is ordinary.

We want everyone who encounters our church to walk away saying, “Wow, that person did more than I asked or expected.”

I heard about a children’s ministry volunteer who welcomed a family with a special needs child and volunteered to stay with the child for the entire service so the parents could participate in worship. That’s awesome. But we don’t want that type of experience to be unusual. We want it to be normal. Extra is ordinary. It’s how we get it done around here.

Last one: Word up.

Nothing lifts or lowers the environment of a church more than words. Cynicism, faultfinding, and complaining destroy an environment. So, word up.

Paul told the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). A great way to reverse negative momentum in this part of your life is to go to the last person with whom you were negative, and apologize. You’ll plant seeds that will grow into a surprisingly beautiful thing.

Eddie Lowen serves as lead minister with West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, and on Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.

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