Mark's Minute 

November 02, 2017

In the classic movie The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word, ‘inconceivable.’ I do not think it means what you think it means.” This week on the blog, another misused word, and how to reclaim it.

The next paragraph is about something happening in politics; however, this isn’t a political rant—I just need to give background.

The topic of this blog came from my morbid fascination with the ongoing Russia collusion investigation in the States. As you’re likely aware, this week a few people were charged for making false statements to the FBI, among other things.

The White House attempted to distance itself from the accused and minimize the roles that they played in the campaign. One of the ways they did this was to call one of them a low-level volunteer.

Obviously he wouldn’t be important: he’s just a low-level volunteer. He’s a nobody.

I don’t know what the White House intends in that statement (and really, who does?), but it struck me that calling someone a volunteer automatically causes us to imagine their status as somehow lesser. “He was just a volunteer,” is supposed to make us see him as less important than someone who collects a paycheque. “Ah,” we say, “if he was just a volunteer, he wouldn’t have had any access to the real work.”

Volunteer. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Like every church, Parkland can only do what it does through the work of volunteers. My concern is that there’s a cultural tendency to see volunteers as somehow less important than those of us who collect a paycheque for our work in the church.

In fact, volunteers might even believe that they’re less important because they don’t collect a paycheque. They might even say things like, “Well, I’m just a volunteer.”

Just a volunteer. The next time you say that around me, you owe me a loonie. Or some Halloween candy. Your pick.

Here’s the deal: there’s nothing that says we have to pay people to work in the church. For example, someone could do the job of the lead pastor as a volunteer. The problem, of course, is that such a volunteer would still need to live in the world, which usually requires income, and that’s where you hit a snag. Time spent earning income is time not spent doing the work of the lead pastor, and then everything suffers.

In other words, we don’t pay people like me because there’s some rule that we have to. We pay people like me because it’s good stewardship. Allocating money to salary allows me to do the job you’ve called me to do without having to worry about how I’m going to put food on the table.

And for that I’m very grateful.

But the fact that I collect a paycheque doesn’t make me a better or more valuable person than you. I have a different role and different gifts, sure, but I’m not the church. We are. All of us. Together.

Without volunteers, there would be very little music on Sunday, and no way to amplify it. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to teach kids about Jesus. Without volunteers, nobody would greet you at the door on Sunday. Without volunteers, there would be no coffee (perish the thought!).

Without volunteers, we would have neither a Leadership Team nor a Spiritual Care Team. Without volunteers, the bills wouldn’t get paid. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t meet for Prayer on Thursday nights. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be running Authentic Living on Tuesdays.

Without volunteers, there would have been no Fall Festival. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to launch an exciting new outreach program with our friends at New Hope Community Services Society that I’m going to tell you about this week.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

There is no such thing as a low-level volunteer in the church. The roles you fill may be big or small, they may require a lot of time or a little, they may require specialized skills or just showing up and doing the work; but no matter what the job is or how important it seems, the person doing it is no less important.

Maybe you’re expecting this to turn into a recruitment drive, but it isn’t going to. We could always use more help with things, but you already know that. For now, just know that your efforts and your service matter—to me and to Jesus (the latter being the far more important one). We wouldn’t be where we are without you. 

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