It’s Father’s Day morning as I write and, not being a pastor any more, I am waiting to ‘go to church.’ Although I am looking forward to it, I am still getting used to not being in pastor mode anymore. The day also makes be reflective of my dad who spent his life not only going to church, but actively serving as a volunteer.
He died nearly 6 years ago at the age of 75. At the time he still owned his own business and was voluntarily donating huge numbers of hours to ministry as volunteer director of the Billy Graham telephone call center in Winnipeg, Canada, and as an Alpha CourseÂ table leader at church, working with pre-believers and discipling new Christians.
Over my lifetime I watched him direct choirs, lead ‘song services,’ build Sunday Schools, direct singles ministries, print bulletins on Saturdays, lead home groups, raise money for our Pentecostal camp in Manitoba, partner with national evangelism outreaches, lead the district men’s ministry, etc., etc. He did this all without pay. That’s why he always wanted to own his own company. The ability to be flexible with your time comes with being your own boss.
No one eclipsed my dad as the ultimate volunteer. Having now been a pastor for 30 years I realized that guys like this don’t come along every day, but they are invaluable if God gives you one. In fact, most of what I believe about volunteer ministry I learned about my dad. Here are a few of those lessons.
1. You don’t have to be a pastor to be a minister. People would often say to dad, “You missed your calling; you should have been a pastor.” Dad, however, was very confident in his calling to be a business man. I liked that. He would not buy into the myth that you had to be in full time ministry before you could be a minister. I saw his volunteerism actually help turn churches around, but he never saw himself a ‘pastor.’ He relentlessly clung to a biblical understanding of ministry, not a sociological one.
2, The local church is worth sacrificing for. Dad volunteered A LOT. Although he was not neglectful of his family (4 kids and a wife) it was also not unusual to ask mom, “Where’s Dad tonight?” Invariably the answer would be, “At church” He was not self-serving with his discretionary time but invested it to make a difference for God. He somehow had linked his service to the church with a deep love for Jesus. How could he love God and not give away his time to God’s work?
3. You stay faithful even if you get hurt. When I was a teenager dad was the volunteer Sunday School superintendent at a our home church. The program had doubled in size under his leadership. At one point he suggested to the pastor that we switch from the denominational curriculum for the sake of more updated teaching materials and methodologies. Unfortunately the pastor interpreted his suggestion as disloyalty. Dad got pretty hurt. Disloyalty was not even in his nature. He was just trying to help, and for free at that. The point is, however, that he stayed faithful. Beyond not getting bitter, he stayed engaged in volunteer ministry at that church. He knew that if you volunteer, you sometimes get hurt. So what, Jesus got hurt too.
4. People are more important than programs. It’s a cliche, I know, but beautiful when it is actually lived out. The one thing that impresses me most about dad’s ministry as a volunteer was not the programs that he would lead at church, but the phone calls he would get at home from people going through hard times, struggling with life, needing prayer and a word of counsel and encouragement. We always had good pastors, but people would often go to him first. I am sure he was often tired, especially when the late evening calls would come, but he never seemed to resent it. Then he would be up early the next morning to spend an hour devotionally with God before going to ‘work.’
Thank you, Lord, for a humble dad who taught me to love Jesus and love serving, even when you don’t get paid. And thanks to all of you dads out there who are making a difference at home AND at church.