Volunteering or Serving?

April is National Volunteer Month . . . which means some non-profits are honoring their volunteers, and some people are stepping out of the stands and onto the field of serving for the first time. Or, to use another metaphor, some are dabbing their toes into the pool of service to see if they like it. Inasmuch as Inasmuch is a non-profit with the purpose of mobilizing people to serve people in need, it seems appropriate to write about National Volunteer Month (NVM) at this time.

One of the purposes of NVM is to honor those who give billions of hours of their time to help others in a multitude of ways. So my purpose here is to lift up servants of all stripes and sizes and encourage you to draw some of your friends into your ranks.

Where did NVM come from?

As far as I can tell, National Volunteer Week began in 1943 when Canada set aside a week in April to honor women who were aiding the war effort in WWII by collecting supplies and helping wounded soldiers. The U.S. debuted National Volunteer Week in 1974. Then in the early 90s, President George H. W. Bush raised awareness of the priority of serving others with his idea of 1000 Points of Light. Around that time, NVW became NVM.

Thirty years later, Points of Light is a vibrant non-profit with this mission:

The Points of Light mission is to inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world. We envision a world where everyone discovers the power to make a difference, creating healthy communities in vibrant, participatory societies.

I can’t get over the similarity of this mission statement to that of Operation Inasmuch. The primary difference is the faith aspect—the message of the gospel primarily.

Some stats on volunteering in America that will blow your mind

I ran across the website VolunteerHub which provides fascinating facts about volunteering in America. I have selected a few for your edification.

  • 1 out of 4 Americans volunteer
  • 2 out of 3 help their neighbors
  • The cumulative value of volunteering in America is $184 billion each year
  • 4% of college grads volunteer each year
  • Volunteers spend an average of 52 hours donating their time each year
  • 92% of human resource execs agree that volunteering for a non-profit can improve an employee’s leadership skills
  • Women volunteer more than men (about 6% more)
  • 35% of volunteers do so to socialize with others in their community
  • 66% of volunteers give their time to improve their community
  • 96% of volunteers report the action enriches their sense of purpose
  • 34% of all volunteers in America give their time through religious organizations
  • 28.2% of Millennials volunteer
  • 30.7% of Baby Boomers volunteer
  • 24.8% of Silent Generation volunteer
  • 39.9% of parents volunteer

Volunteering or Serving

The terms “volunteering” and “serving” are often used interchangeably, but are they the same? In many ways, they are—giving one’s time and talent for the benefit of others for free, being motivated to make the community/neighborhood/world a better place, and being moved by others’ needs. And yet, they are not exactly the same.

Serving connotes a stronger degree of humility and compassion. You can volunteer to pick up litter along the road, and that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t require any compassion. You can volunteer to act as an usher at a public event, but it doesn’t require compassion or humility. On the other hand, you cannot serve a person in need well without humility and compassion. The keyword in that sentence is “well.” Anyone can dispense food or clothing or medicines, or any number of other resources that meet people’s needs. But serving goes beyond providing resources; it cares for the person(s) being served whether or not caring words are expressed verbally.

I heard someone say recently, “The need has a name.” Serving people in need is a compassionate human transaction. When you take the time to get to know the person(s) you are helping, you are serving them. When you realize personal touch, personal words, and a smile are part of the provision for a person in need, you are serving them.

To be clear, none of what I have said is meant to denigrate volunteering. It is worthwhile, needed, and valuable to any community. Acknowledging National Volunteer Month, showing appreciation for volunteers is a good thing. We need more volunteers. More importantly, we need more servants. For those of us who take our cue to serve from Jesus, do so with authentic humility and compassion.

What do you think?

Please share your reactions to this blog. Do you agree that “volunteering” and “serving” are different? How would you add to what I have said here or disagree with me? Let’s talk about it during National Volunteer Month.

Written by:
David Crocker

David Crocker is the Founder of Operation Inasmuch. He was a pastor for 38 years prior to launching the Inasmuch ministry which has equipped more than 2,100 churches in 25 states and several other countries to mobilize their members in mercy ministry. David’s passion is seeing believers serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as a lifestyle.

3 responses to “Volunteering or Serving?”

  1. CARL R BROADHURST says:

    David,

    Yes, volunteering and serving CAN be the same and CAN be different. One cannot discern each by watching the actions being conducted. IF you can get into the brain and the heart of the person doing the action, then one will likely be able to discern which actions are volunteering and which are serving.

    One of the actions will likely earn “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” The other action may earn “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

    Cheers

    Well done.

    Carl Broadhurst

  2. William Sprinkle says:

    I agree totally with your assessment concerning the difference between a volunteer and a servant. I have worked alongside quite a few Christians who show true compassion and love to those in need.

  3. Novella McClung says:

    David,
    I think serving and volunteering are different. They can work the same way but motives are different. In volunteering it might be because your work place demands it or you make contacts for work. It looks good on your blog and you are happy when you are finished. Serving is based on your love for the Lord. You want others to know Him and you serve their need for the privilege of sharing Jesus. It might be a cup of water or become a lifelong friendship. You serve because Jesus showed us the example. He saw the need and acted out of compassion/love. He cared/cares so I must.
    Congratulations on your book!

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