Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

What Motivates a Christian to Volunteer?

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

When I volunteered to serve our country through military service I remember being confused when other service personnel warned, “whatever you do, never raise your hand to volunteer for anything.” After all, I had freely joined the military to serve and fight to preserve freedom and the American way of life. I volunteered and freely chose to be involved because it was something I wanted to do. There was an inner sense of personal pride and satisfaction in serving. I wanted to do my duty like those who served in generations before me. Like many others, I still feel that same way today. It is important that we know why we are volunteering and why a specific task or service is important to us. What motivates someone to volunteer within a church? Typically, we choose to volunteer ourselves in positions that share similar values or convictions as our own. As a couple, Lynn and I have voluntarily served in churches in just about every position one could imagine. We have tended to serve in areas that reflected our stage of life at the time. As important as these reasons may be, the greater question is what is pleasing to God? How would he want us to invest out time, talent and treasure into His kingdom?

Hopefully, as we invest our time, we observe good results and receive appreciation, purpose and meaning through helping others. However, as believers we are commanded by our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20 to “go and make disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). In addition, there may be other more tangible motivating rewards. Some of us begin volunteering as a way to give back some of the blessings we have received from the Lord. For instance, I once knew a pastor who told how he came to know Jesus through a woman serving in vacation Bible school. Others report that they remember their Sunday school teacher whom years earlier, shared the gospel with them and they prayed to receive Christ after class. Others remember a faithful youth worker who listened, cared, and believed in them during confusing times. Still others point to an elder, teacher, or peer counselor who responded to them in time of crisis. Whatever the motivation, most Christians volunteer because they are appreciative and want to give back to God through serving others.

It is through such service that God develops believers and provides a way for the body of Christ to use and mature their spiritual gifts. The unifying principle of God’s plan acts like “new energy” within the church. The apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus that the purpose of using spiritual gifts is, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 12, 13).

Another motivating factor for volunteers is that they realize they are making a difference. Some of us work in vocations where we are managing change everyday. Who doesn’t want to make a difference in the lives of people? What keeps us volunteering is the emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual “payoffs” from doing the work and seeing good results. Volunteers are usually motivated by a combination of these factors; a sense of obedience for some, a chance to be creative for others, doing meaningful work, and an opportunity to learn and grow.

Along with making a difference, people want to be appreciated for who they are as well as what they do. Receiving a thank you note, telephone call, a personal visit, or a small token of appreciation goes a long way in making volunteers feel that their investment of time counts and that they are important to the church and its attendees. Small, consistent gestures of thankfulness never fail to produce positive feelings and encouraging results. As important motivating factors as these are, we are also instructed by the apostle Paul to conduct all service as unto the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3: 23, 24). We need both the honoring attitude of the heart as well as the honoring of the person’s service.

Our country is founded on great principles. The Church of Jesus Christ is founded on God’s word and lasting promises. Many of us volunteer to preserve these principles and promises by freely offering our talents, goods, or services in order to “do good” and help others. Many of us have experienced God’s blessings and freely offer our gifts and talents as the Holy Spirit directs. We volunteer and freely choose to be involved because it is something important to us. We receive an inner sense of personal pride and satisfaction in serving. As we invest our time, we observe good results and receive appreciation, purpose and meaning through helping others. These are some of the reasons that motivate many of us to volunteer. These are some of the reasons why I continue to “raise my hand and volunteer” for those situations that are close to my heart and produce a lasting legacy.

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