Thursday, May 28, 2009

Volunteers, Church, and the Kingdom

Ryan Guard asks a great question: do volunteer leaders need to be members of the church? My initial reaction is, "of course!" If they're committed to the ministry, then they should commit to the rest of the body. Yet it's not always that simple.

This past week, I had to ask an incredible potential volunteer to take a step back from the ministry. He's committed to an awesome church plant that our church is supporting, but has also been checking out the junior high group for the past month. He's relates really well with the students, loves Jesus, connects with the current volunteer team, and has plenty of time on his hands. So it was difficult when we came to the mutual decision that he should exclusively focus on the church plant.

I felt like I was breaking up with him.

I could see that he was making an impact in students' lives. But I also don't want volunteers to relationally spread themselves too thin, trying to balance between two communities. Nor do we want to set an example of church hopping to students, making it seem like it's okay to jump from church to church based on our personal whims. Yet the kingdom of God isn't limited to my church.

It may come down to deeper questions about people's roles in the Body of Christ. Is there a Biblical mandate stating that my volunteers must go through a membership class? Does Scripture explicitly say that a volunteer on Wednesday night must attend the same church's service on Sunday morning? Are volunteers committing themselves to individual students, the youth ministry, the local church, or the Church as a whole? Does the specific volunteer role make a difference (i.e. is someone directing parking on a different commitment level than mentoring a junior higher?). How can we set clear boundaries without being overly rigid?

What do you think? Should volunteer leaders be members of the church?


  1. This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I don't see anything resembling membership in the NT church, although maybe that concept would've been foreign to them. I've been heavily involved with my current church, including in the worship ministry, for 5 years, but I'm not a member. Does that mean I'm not committed? I agree church hopping is a problem, but the concept of church membership doesn't solve it. I agree with your other reasons of the potential of overextension though.

  2. Curtis, good thoughts! Modern-day church membership is a pet peeve for me too, but I think when we view membership as members of the Body (think limbs), not members of a club, then we're coming in line with Scripture (Romans 12, 1 Cor. 12).

  3. It still feels like to me as adding to what is necessary to be part of the body of Christ. I am part of the body of Christ regardless of church membership through the saving grace of Christ. Feels to come more out of sectarian/denominational development in the church. I guess I feel like the downsides outweigh the benefits.

    What are the benefits anyway? I guess I don't see how church membership assists in the process of discipleship, faithfulness, service, etc. If anything, it can make some people feel like they are outside the club, which the church in general is bad about already. I guess many people would say, what's the big deal either way. I feel like it can actually be detrimental to community, but maybe that is a personality thing.

  4. Curtis, I had a long debate at the last church I worked at about this. I served as an intern, then was brought on as staff, but I never became a member of the church, nor did I ever go through their membership classes. Like you, I was frustrated with the idea of church as a club where some people are "in" and some aren't. I never became a member.

    Yet I have seen and experienced churches where membership is less about being in the club and more about accountability in community. It does show commitment to say, "yes, I'm part of this local body, and I want to devote my time and energy here." For instance, I ask all of my volunteer staff to sign a covenant before coming on to the team. It's a sign that they're on board, that they're willing to jump in fully. I'm not questioning their motives, but I would wonder about their teachability and inner attitude if they adamantly refused to sign the covenant. Not all of my staff are official members of the church, but they are all committed members of my leadership team.

    The early church actually did have a form of membership: baptism. A person's baptism was clear evidence that they were part of the growing Jesus movement, and there is an unspoken expectation in Paul's writings that if you're a follower of Jesus, then you're baptized. Baptism has shifted though, so now it can be more like the rite of passage to get in the club than a pronouncement that Jesus is Lord in the face of the Roman empire.

  5. Thanks for the follow-up. I think we are mostly in the same place on this. You are right, some churches get it right more than others like a lot of things.

    I would actually have less probably signing a covenant commitment to serve in a particularly ministry. Don't really have an issue with that because it is more about being committed and accountable to that particularly team. Also, at our church you have to attend regularly for at least 6 months to serve on the worship team, so that is another way to do it.

    Also, if I really loved a church and they wanted me to join to be involved in a particularly ministry, I would PROBABLY do it, but I would certainly have the discussion with them as to why they thought it was necessary.