Last night was PAC’s 4th Annual Volunteer Appreciation Banquet and I was drawing a blank for how to creatively offer words of appreciation.
- Years 1 and 2, I took a bunch of real-life anecdotes and wove them into a fictional story about the journey of a new family to PAC and how their lives changed over the years thanks to our volunteers.
- Year 3, I read letters from “Future PAC” to “2017 PAC” to try to show how the faithful service of our volunteers leads to large-scale transformation over time.
- Also Year 3, I belted out “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show while the cheesecake was being handed out.
The stories and letters were appreciated – mixed reviews for the song. Thumbs down from my daughter and wife. Thumbs up from everyone else. An aspiring 70’s rock vocalist is not without honor except in his own home.
This year I decided to use the pastors of the Bible as mentors and ask:
“How would James, Peter, Paul, and John encourage their churches?”
Turns out, none of these four pastors would be on your shortlist as guest speakers to invite to your volunteer appreciation banquet. They rarely encourage their congregations about specific behaviors. There are a few places, but for every word of affirmation, there are pages of correction. Not really the sort of vibe we have at our banquet which is really more of the “no correction, all appreciation” genre.
Now, they are smart guys. They led churches. They know how important morale is and that stuff needs to get done. Why the absence of cheerleading?
My thinking is they understand sustainable ministry requires better fuel than appreciation. If you are running on appreciation you’ll find you burn through it faster than a 2000 Lexus 470 burns through premium fuel (painfully fast) and your tank will generally feel empty and your wife will wonder why we even bother keeping Sexy Lexy on the road.
This is true of volunteers. This is true of pastors.
This is why James, Paul, John, and Peter didn’t focus their attention on affirming specific behaviors and focused their encouragement elsewhere.
They coached behavior, they affirmed identity.
Some quick examples:
- “You love because God first loved you.” – John
- “You are a firstfruit of all creation.” – James
- “You were rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son.” – Paul
- “Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Paul
If you know you are a child of God, the right behaviors will simply flow because the hearts of sons and daughters are naturally poised to do the work close to the Father’s heart. Your heart cherishes and longs for the same things as the Father and so you serve. You don’t need cheesecake, encouraging emails, pats on the back, and renditions of “Sylvia’s Mother” to keep you going. And if you do get them – as nice and deserved as they may be – they won’t be enough to keep you going.
John, James, Peter, and Paul might not be the best examples of how to pump up the parking team with the eternal significance of their contribution to the mission but they do clarify the truth that sustainable ministry doesn’t come from consistently pumping up the troops with hype. But rather, from a rhythmic re-enforcement of exactly who the troops are in Christ.
What’s nice about this is a pastor wanting to encourage doesn’t necessarily have to be a gifted visionary or salesman and figure out how to add deep mission significance to every action or explain how personal fulfillment is connected with volunteer service. Those are helpful skills maybe, but not the ones we see on display from John, James, Peter, and Paul.
We see them focus on identity.