Volunteerism or Stewardship


by Christopher Holwey

I would like to offer a few words here concerning the difference between volunteerism and stewardship, and how it correctly pertains to our life in the Church. Over the years, I have seen many of us in the church struggle to get more and more people to participate and “volunteer” to do what needs to be done to keep our churches going. Whether it be helping out once a year at the annual whatever, or being a part of the weekly and monthly life in the Church, we always seem to find ourselves, sooner or later, lamenting the fact that we do not have enough people “volunteering” to do all of the tasks and fill all of the roles that need to be done and filled. Well, I propose to you that one of the difficulties that I see in all of this is our focus.

Are we really looking for “volunteers” to do a project, or are we looking for stewards to fulfill a ministry?

As each new liturgical year roles around in September, we find ourselves looking for parishioners to teach in our Church School, sing in our choir, serve in the altar, oversee our Youth Ministry, join the organizations, usher, chant, cook, clean, plan for the future, pay the bills, make the necessary decisions, and so on, ad infinitum. Then, we look at them all and call them such wonderfully “dedicated volunteers,” and try to be ever so careful not to put too many demands on them, or expect too much from them, because they are simply “volunteers.” Well, enough of that word and mentality! May I humbly, yet boldly, say we are NOT volunteers. We are stewards! Our Archdiocese does not have a Department of Volunteerism, but rather a Department of Stewardship.

Some might say: “What’s the difference? What’s in a name? We’re all working for the church anyway and trying to get the job done. Who cares what you call it!” Well, my friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ, there really is a big difference, and I feel that a name can make all the difference in the world, especially when that world is dealing with, and is, God’s kingdom.

Let us, first of all, take a look at the definitions of each word and see how they present themselves. The word voluntary (as taken from the Random House Dictionary) means “done, made, brought about, undertaken, etc., of one’s own accord or by free choice; of, pertaining to, or acting in accord with the will.” A volunteer is defined as “a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking; a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.” Honestly, I have no problem with the word itself, since as you can see, we must all come to do what needs to be done in the Church out of our own free will. Even St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians: “Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Furthermore, none of us, I believe, would ever expect to be paid by the church for singing in the choir or teaching Church School. But, is there not much more to our life in the Church than simply doing something freely and without pay?

Well, let’s look at stewardship. A steward is defined as “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others; a person who has charge of the household of another, buying or obtaining food, directing the servants.” As you can see, the focus is much different. As stewards, we are not simply coming of our own free will to accomplish a task, but more importantly, we are taking care of that which has been given to us by God. This is His World, His Church, His Property, and we are His Children and Stewards who have been entrusted with the care of it all. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Furthermore, as we look at the pamphlet put out by our own Archdiocese’s Department of Stewardship “Standing Ready to Serve,” we read: “Life is a gift from God. All that we have in this life is part of that gift. Stewardship reinforces this belief and reminds us that our time, talents, and resources are the gifts through which we show our love and appreciation to God.”

So, as the Lord Jesus Himself said to us, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions” (Luke 12:42-44). As faithful stewards of God’s holy House, we have a sacred obligation and responsibility not simply to volunteer a few extra moments, but rather to humbly and joyfully offer our time, our talents, and our resources back to God in the management and care of that which He has given to us. And this responsibility belongs to all of us, clergy and laity alike. St. Paul wrote to Titus and told him to “appoint elders (presbyters) in every town,” and referred to the bishop as “God’s steward,” specifying the many qualities he will need to be a good steward and overseer of God’s holy House (1:5ff). We can see the depth of this as well in Jesus’s words to Peter: “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15-19). And again, when St. Paul was speaking about his own ministry of preaching the gospel, he said: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). In Greek, this word commission is the word for stewardship. So you see that even if he did not want to do it of his own free will, he knew that he must preach anyway, for that was what was entrusted to him by God!

As for the laity, the words of the two Patrons of our Patriarchate, Ss. Peter and Paul, are quite straightforward. From St. Paul: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2); and from St. Peter: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

Yes, it is true, my friends! There is no human being alive who has not received a gift from God. We have all been blessed by God with certain gifts and talents – and opportunities to use them! – and are called upon to give back a portion of these blessings in thanksgiving for what we have received, and for the glory of His holy Name. This is what we call Total Parish Involvement. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). So, whether we are serving at the altar, changing the candles, working on the budget, vacuuming the carpet, singing in the choir, fixing the broken door, teaching Church School, cooking in the kitchen, overseeing Youth Ministry, cutting the grass, teaching Bible Study, chanting, greeting people in the back of the church, making Holy Bread, offering a donation, putting the Festival or Bazaar together, cataloguing books for the library, counting the money, working in the office, visiting the lost sheep, staying after to lock the doors, visiting the sick and shut-ins, reading the epistle, ushering, folding the weekly bulletin, planning a special event, visiting those in prison, caring for the elderly, serving coffee hour, working in an organization, serving on the Parish Council, preaching a sermon, or being a shut-in who can’t get out of the house yet prays each day for our people and calls others on the phone once in a while to simply say hello, – and whatever else I may have forgotten – we are ALL of infinite value to our God and a vital part of the management and stewardship of His holy Church. This shows us, then, that the Church is not a charity at which we volunteer; rather, She is our Mother whom we serve.

Let us, therefore, be faithful and righteous in our stewardship. “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?" (Luke 16:10-12). Remember, in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), the Master was not upset because the third servant didn't volunteer, but rather because he didn't make good use of his talent, and did not care properly for that with which he was entrusted. Let us all go forth and be faithful to our calling, each in his or her own way, and as we heard in the Conference theme a few years ago: “See that you fulfil the ministry which you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17).