While I totally miss being on staff at a local church– there’s one thing I don’t miss at all.
I don’t have to filter my interactions with students through the grid of “what I’m supposed to say because I work at this church.”
3 Easy Examples
- End times – I don’t care about end times predictions, never understood this evangelical fascination. While I get the first century propensity to look forward to Jesus return because their lives really stunk under Roman oppression, I think some modern-day readers and churches use looking-forward as a way to ignore what’s right in front of us. Studying the end times isn’t as important as living for Jesus today. (This one ebbs and flows, not that popular right now.) But I worked for churches who cared a lot about this, so I taught it and emphasized it when encouraged to.
- Baptism – Baptism is important. But it’s not something you should feel pressured into just because we have a baptism service coming up. Get baptized when you’re ready to identify yourself with Christ and this group of people. Yes, the sooner the better. But Jesus is patient. But I regularly was told to find people who would get baptized, not because they were lead to, but because we had a baptism service coming up. And yes, there were lists.
- Church attendance – Also important. But I don’t think Jesus thinks less of you if you skip church when you go on vacation or occasionally just decide you don’t want to go. Actually, many people would live a more vibrant Christian life if they were involved at church about 50% less. There’s a fine line between being a shepherd who cares and a guy who is helping get the numbers up.
Every profession comes with professional filters. (Proper use of these filters are one of the marks of being called a professional. It’s also part of being a grown up.)
I don’t think I ever felt like I needed to lie to people. And I don’t lose sleep feeling guilty– I cross the line and lie to people. But, sometimes I was guilty of telling people “something less” than what I truly felt was the whole truth. And I hate that. It was professionally filtered truth. A truth on behalf of the organization. All I’m saying is that I don’t miss that part of working at a church because every time I did it, it felt like I lost a bit of my soul.
[sidenote]This is actually one thing I really like about the church we go to. While I’m sure the staff is somewhat under pressure to make things work, they’re not pushy by design… It’s core to who the church is to challenge people without manipulating them.[/sidenote]
Strategic Advantage of Volunteers
I share this not as a criticism of life working in church. As I already mentioned, this is one thing you have to do as a professional in any field. (Represent the organization vs. your individual thoughts.)
I share this because, as a volunteer working with students, it is a strategic advantage.
I don’t have to put that particular filter on, at all. And the students I interact with know it.
Whether a student can articulate it or not they understand that the person who works for the church has a vested interest in their ministry going well. Just like they know that if their soccer team wins it’s good for them AND their soccer coach. That vested interest is a strategic disadvantage for the paid person working in student ministry.
But the strategic advantage that volunteers have is that we’re not tied to those filters, we can earn a different level of credibility with students. And when we “buy in” it plusses the student ministry all the more.
The Credibility Burn
For the paid person this is a double-edged sword. It can really help you or it can really hurt you. You might have volunteers who are supportive to your face but undermining your credibility… and you’ve got to sniff that out before you get bounced! I’ve talked to a ton of people who lost their ministry jobs and they really had no idea as to why. They didn’t sniff it out in time.
Photo credit: opensourceway via Flickr (Creative Commons)