I’ve been working in some sort of volunteer management for the past 10 years. For most of these years my mantra has been about the need for leaders to invest in and equip those who serve on their teams, and that failing to do so is really nothing more than using people.
I still feel this way, but I’ve lately become troubled by another leader perspective which I’ve noticed, something on the other end of the spectrum; working hard to see that volunteers “feel really good” as a result of their experience. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people will feel great after serving, and should. When someone they’ve been ministering to finally decides to follow Jesus; when team efforts result in a goal reached. These things feel great, but there are other feelings that a volunteer should be experiencing.
When we try to insure that volunteers have a “feel good” experience, I fear that we are getting into the Holy Spirit’s territory. Sometimes serving in a kingdom calling will feel awful, will produce anguish and pain and tears. And I’d go even further. If the person serving never experiences such feelings, I’d question whether they are fully engaged with God in kingdom business. Consider these “feelings” expressed by the apostle Paul (emphasis added):
His agony over what was happening in Corinthian church: I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
His painful longing to be with the Thessalonians: But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
What emotion should surface in someone when a volunteer comes face to face with injustice? How should someone emotionally process the realities of cyclical poverty or generational crime? How should it feel when someone who has been genuinely loved and cared for discards the caring efforts and violates trust? I propose that real kingdom engagement will regularly produce emotions like anger, frustration, desperation, despair, disappointment, sorrow.
When Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 got difficult, when He laid out what it was going to “feel” like to follow him, many turned back and didn’t follow any longer (vs. 66). But knowing full well how it was going to “feel” to engage with Him in kingdom ministry, yet Jesus’ prayer for us was that we might have “the full measure of my joy within them.” (Jn. 17:13). He experienced incomprehensible joy, which He offers to us, but only as we fully engage. We can’t have one without the other.
We make a serious mistake if we create ministry experiences that intentionally keep people at an arms distance, if we don’t help them engage fully, relationally and yes, painfully. Protecting people from the anguish of service robs them of the full measure of Jesus joy.
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