Voluntary Service; Good or Bad

Author Name: 

Voluntary service is a relatively new concept in the history of man. In many cultures, it is still more or less unknown. It is an aspect of living known only to cultures operating outside the bounds of survival mode.

Most cultures during the last 6000 years used the greater portion of their time to sustain basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, man began to have extra time on his hand. Since the entire summer did not have to be more or less committed to the preparation for winter, man found himself with the opportunity to dedicate portions of time to something other than survival. With these kinds of opportunities, possibilities became broad.

Travel expanded, hobbies blossomed, and spare time bloomed. The other possibility that occurs when a culture no longer operates in survival mode is the opportunity for materialism. In other words, a person could continue with an equivalent effort as before. But now, instead of using the majority of his time to survive, the same amount of effort can be used to produce extra for extra returns. With this effort, a person has a means of accumulation to financial success. In many ways, this effort is commendable and proper.

But what is the limit? Is it God's will for all men to strive to accumulate as much as possible? Is God honored when we seek to have the greatest storehouse of all? The Scriptures warn against excess and the church seeks to find this balance.

The search for temperance in the practical world of buying and selling has contributed to some of our present-day designs for voluntary service. Through the promptings of wise men, people are encouraged to set aside a portion of their life for service in personal care homes, print shops, mission programs, and such like.

The voluntary service (VS) programs have benefited the church in many ways as those with means have stepped up to support others who largely donate their time and what they could be doing materially with their time for the cause of churchsponsored programs.

VS programs have also been propagated out of necessity from social or political pressures. The 1-W program from several generations ago would be an example of such.

So, are voluntary programs good or bad?

VS is good because it promotes the thought that life does not consist of the things which a man has. If a youth comes through schooling and immediately moves into the work world, he can very quickly move into the comfortable world where he basically only needs to wish for something and it can readily be his. I feel old as I watch youth travel to places that I could only dream of when I was their age. I feel surprised as I am aware of the resources of young men who purchase properties and goods.

VS is good because it puts a party lifestyle and those challenges on hold so that the individual can focus on something besides personal agenda and accomplishments.

VS is bad because it is an unrealistic lifestyle. The discounted income of VS living limits the participants in many ways. This discipline is good. It tempers appetites. It teaches carefulness, saving and wise spending. But VS living depends on housing and other necessities being provided by the supplements of those outside the program. Therefore, those outside play as important of a role as those inside.

Who is the greater hero; the teacher who works for 50% of what he or she could earn elsewhere or the one who earns 100% and supplements the teacher? Who would you rather be?

The fallout of this subtle mentality is that VS becomes a course that is graduated. It is a badge earned. Has anyone ever heard the statement "I did my service at ?"

Realistically, VS should never end. Ideally, the sacrifices should be equal, inside or outside. When VS is viewed as something I do, rather than something I am, there will be a subtle drain on the program. If VS is something I do, then it will become something I did. In this way, our youth are discouraged from ever joining a program. If I am as needed to supplement a program as I am to participate in a program, why not become one who supplements right away? It is easy to see that the one who supplements has many more options with his means than one who participates.
When VS is something that is done rather than something we are, it is typical to expect youth to participate because the program is for them. But shouldn't the expectations of participation be equal across the board? How many people in our churches are not available for service programs because of their supplemental ability is helpful, possibly even critical to us?

If VS is a mentality rather than a program, there shouldn't be a significant difference between finding administrators versus workers. But when VS is a program, there will be a discernable difference for a time between the availability of adults versus youth. In the long run, the difference will equalize because youth will seek their own agenda just like the people they follow.

VS is good because it can teach valuable lessons in interpersonal relationships. This theme is consistent with those who have given portions of their lives in this way. To move outside of the comfort zone of our God-given home can develop people in a positive way. This type of living can expose poor habits, fallow ground, and rough edges. Lessons can be learned about life which would be absorbed in a home setting.

VS is bad because it removes youth from a God-designed fortress. Our church history is littered with casualties of youth who left the circles of home and church; went out into church sponsored programs, and were lost to the world. Wise men understand that there are a number of reasons why this may have happened. One of the reasons could be that there was no spiritual depth at home.

But we ought to constantly ask the question: must this happen? In the Scriptural context, children grow up in homes to eventually have their own homes. While there are stories of Moses, Daniel and Apostle Paul whom God used abundantly outside of the home arena, home is generally where our greatest accomplishments will lie.

VS programs can work both ways. They can sharpen conviction; they can dull convictions. They can train character; they can wreck character. They can enhance appreciation for the sponsoring churches; they can produce mockers.

VS programs are like any other endeavor of a Scriptural church. When the Lord is in the work, so is His blessing. But there is an enemy, whose name is Satan. His primary weapon is deception.
VS programs should never be developed simply because we want to provide a work for our youth. Our youth have all the opportunities for Christian service they need in our own homes and churches. It is up to the parents of these youth to channel their energies and motivations just like a program would. VS programs need to be born out of two necessities; political compliance (i.e. 1-W programs) or mission endeavor. Mission endeavors would be those that cannot be duplicated on a home level (i.e. Shepherd's Fold or Good Shepherd Children's Home).

One of the rich blessings of a VS program is when the learned skills of the program are the springboard of a life-changing view. The church is blessed when a person's heart is moved to start his own publication after the publishing house term is completed. The church is stronger when the counselor goes home from Shepherd's Fold and utilizes the developed compassionate, gentle heart to reach out to the struggling neighbors in the community.

Is VS good or bad? There are distinct blessings to the home and church. But there are also pitfalls. The programs are nowhere near as important as the lifestyle.

- Myerstown, PA