Volunteering and serving others is a significant part of living intentionally and trying to make a positive impact on the world. But, it can be intimidating to step out. And even when we do, it can be a disheartening experience.
We all have our issues and weaknesses that can keep us in our same routines and prevent us from volunteering for something new. Here are a few things that hold us back from serving others:
We’re Waiting for the Perfect Conditions.
I’ll volunteer when I have some extra time and when life eases up.
The problem is that you will always be busy. There will always be a fire to put out. To summarize Ecclesiastes 11:4-5, if you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. (God is not only all-knowing and good, but incredibly practical.)
Often when we’re going through a rough time, the last thing we want to do is put ourselves out there even more. We’re already feeling vulnerable, or even downright fragile. At times, I’ve felt like building a bunker and hiding out until the excruciatingly slow-moving storm passes. But I’ve learned it’s actually a great time to focus on others. You may find a new sense of purpose that refocuses you, or meet someone who impacts you as much as you could ever impact them. God is the king of symbiotic relationships.
We Think We Don’t Have Enough to Offer.
That girl spends her spring breaks in the African bush treating AIDS patients. What can I offer in comparison?
The answer is simple: a lot. Don’t be intimidated. Small choices—little steps—can lead to big change. If you asked the girl volunteering in Africa, she’d probably be able to track back a trail of small choices and decisions that led her there, one step at a time. She probably didn’t just suddenly go from never having volunteered to hopping on a plane to Africa.
Plus, we are called for different purposes—some more dramatic than others, but not necessarily more important. The mission field is not limited to far-off places—it includes your city, work and home. Wherever you are, God has something vital going on.
We Fear the Unknown.
I won’t know anybody. What if they ask me to do something I’ve never tried before? What if I fail?
Fear of the unknown can prevent us from following God’s promptings to serve and fully accept all that He has for us. Be bold. Try. Remember, rather than call the equipped, God seems to like to equip the called. Give Him the chance.
We Don’t Know Which Cause to Choose.
There are so many good causes. Which one?
Sometimes, a cause is close to our hearts because of what we or a loved one have experienced. At other times, it’s not so clear where we should invest our time. Test out different opportunities. You don’t have to commit to years of service. It’s OK to explore.
We Don’t Think We’re Needed.
They probably have plenty of other volunteers.
There are so many people hurting throughout the world, with so many needs. Trust me, you are needed. Somewhere. Don’t leave it to someone else. My pastor likes to say that if you see something that needs addressed, You might be the person God is elbowing to do it.
We Tried Volunteering and It Didn’t Meet Our Expectations.
Even when we overcome that initial inertia and make the effort to volunteer, it doesn’t always go as we hope. Obstacles can rear up like tire spikes in any area of our lives; so why expect helping others to be a smooth ride? (Especially when you’re trying to help others and be the hands and feet of Jesus.) To recognize and prepare for these common obstacles can be half of the battle to overcome them.
We Never Heard Back
I signed up. They said they’d get me plugged in, but then, I heard nothing.
Coordinating volunteers is a skill…a serious talent that’s often under-appreciated. Plus, the coordinator may wear several additional hats. If appropriate, consider sending an email or text as a reminder. List a few of your specific skills or interests so it’s easier to find the right fit. You know you; they don’t. Make it easier for them … Or maybe volunteer coordinator is the role for you.
We Felt Out of Place
I don’t really fit in here. I expected to feel a sense of belonging right off the bat.
Give it time. Not everyone is an extrovert. Not everyone opens up in the same way or with the same speed. Perhaps you have less in common than expected, but don’t limit God. What He has in mind is guaranteed to be better than the options you set before Him. Remember Ephesians 3:20: “Now, to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.” God’s plans are always bigger than ours. He’s the best adventure planner out there.
We Felt Unimportant
Hand out flyers? Smile and hold the door open? But I want to do something that matters.
You might’ve just handed someone a lifeline. Your smile might’ve given hope to a young girl contemplating suicide because she felt invisible. I’d say that’s hugely important. Whatever your position, do it well and learn whatever you can. Work your way to where you want to serve—where your past experiences will set you up to handle the responsibilities given to you in God’s perfect timing.
We Think We Can’t Make a Difference.
I won’t even make a dent in the problem.
Concentrate instead on helping one person. One task at a time, then another. Psalm 119:105 states that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. If it’s at our feet, it won’t illuminate the whole road, but rather, one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come.
I recently heard one of our campus pastors refer to volunteers as “activated believers.” I want to be one of those. Volunteering takes determination. Sometimes, it takes work just to get started. But it can also change who we are and how we live—for the better.
Marney McNall writes for Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. She loves writing for nonprofit causes and crafting stories that put us in othersÕ shoes. She believes stories help us empathize and try harder to do life together. Follow her on Twitter @MarneyMcNall or visit her blog at marneymcnall.com.