Volunteer or Serve?

There is often a debate about what to call people who assist in children’s ministry. “Volunteer” has been the term of choice for many congregations.   You have volunteer ushers, volunteer musicians, volunteer teachers, and many other volunteers. However, I believe that by simply changing terminology, we can alter the mindset of what it means to be a part of children’s ministry.

Volunteering is not a bad thing. Volunteers make our world a better place, so why change what we call those who volunteer in children’s ministry?  One reason for not using the term “volunteer” can be found by looking at the model of Jesus and His disciples. Jesus is our Savior and our Teacher.  As a leader, we need to be like Jesus. He didn’t ask His disciples to volunteer in His ministry. He asked them to follow Him and to serve Him.  When your team members are asked to serve, they take ownership.  They serve with intense purpose. One who is merely volunteering is more inclined to stop volunteering when life gets too hectic or when a better volunteer opportunity arises.  One term I have used instead of “volunteer” is “worker.” However, even “worker” can cause someone to view working in children’s ministry more like a job than a ministry.

I knew that God was leading me in a vocabulary change, so after spending time in thought and prayer, God gave me the word SERVE. That is exactly what Jesus asked, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:26, NIV). I use SERVE as an acronym that heads the monthly assignment board for my team.

S: selfless  E: enthusiastic  R: reliable  V: vowed  E: excellent

A children’s ministries team is a team committed to serving children. As much as I love to lead, I am not as effective without my team. I don’t think of my team as volunteers because we are working together to serve children.  Each of us has special gifts that contribute to the ministry.  If someone leaves the team, it needs to be God-led and not just because they are done volunteering. The children in our ministries need teams of servant leaders, so they have a village of God-fearing individuals who have a vested interest in their spiritual growth.

Ministry is not a volunteer position or a routine. It is a privilege to be chosen and serve.  May God bless you as you create and lead a SERVE Team (not volunteers!) in your ministries.


Contributing Author: Judy Brittingham

Judy Brittingham is the children’s ministry director at Hickory Valley Community Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  She has a Bachelor of Science degree in music education from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Administration degree from Lincoln Memorial University.  Judy had the privilege of teaching music to children for 32 years.  In addition to ministry to children, she is the director of training choirs with the Chattanooga Boys choir.  Judy and her husband Robert have been married for 38 years and have two grown children and two cats!

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