WACO—A Baylor researcher has confirmed what many church nominating committees and volunteer coordinators have suspected. Christians age 50 and older volunteer for service because they believe God wants them to do it.
Dennis Myers, associate dean for graduate studies in Baylor University’s School of Social Work, reported his findings during a workshop the social work school sponsored in conjunction with Truett Theological Seminary and the Leadership Network.
Researchers surveyed 7,500 people in 35 churches nationally, and conducted in-depth follow-up interviews with 25 volunteers from those churches—most of them age 50 or older.
Most volunteers, in general, find motivation for service in a search for significance, recognition or guilt reduction. But research reveals Christians tend to volunteer as a response to God, whether they express it in terms of obedience to divine commands, a way of showing gratitude for blessings, a call to service, a sense of giftedness for a task or a desire to share their faith, Myers noted.
Christian volunteers also cite as reasons for service relationship benefits—both with recipients of ministry and other volunteers—and personal benefits such as a sense of “making a difference” or “feeling good” about what they do.
Myers recommended seven ways to invite and nurture volunteers age 50 and older:
• Embrace God’s perspective. Recognize service as a sacred act and volunteers as God’s instruments. “God is at work through ordinary people,” he said. “It’s a matter of tuning in and realizing when people walk into our presence, God is walking up.”
• Mediate sacred transactions. Rather than just filling positions, help to link people in search of God’s purpose together with needs and opportunities.
• Broaden the definition of 50-plus volunteers. View homebound senior adults not only as recipients of ministry, but also as a volunteer pool who may be able to pray, send cards or make phone calls. Recognize that age 50-plus caregivers who may be tending to an ailing spouse or aging parent or rearing a grandchild already are in a position of service.
• Listen for the calling. “Take the time to hear people’s stories,” Myers said. People are more effective and fulfilled when they are serving in a place where they feel called by God.
• Explore the faith and service connection. “Faith grows because of service. It’s transformational,” he said.
• Celebrate what God is doing. Draw attention to God instead of people. Rather than embarrassing workers through a volunteer recognition service, give volunteers the opportunity to give testimony publicly about how they see God at work.
• Create contracts. Formal written agreements may not be necessary, but clearly define expectations and make clear the time-period involved for a volunteer commitment.