By T. R. Robertson
“So why do you guys do this?”
I posed the question to a group of men who were cooking up hundreds of hamburgers and hot dogs on a pair of barbecue grills. They were working diligently to keep up with the steady stream of hungry college students who had shown up for the annual beginning-of-the-year Free Feast at the Mizzou Christian Campus House (CCH).
These guys were all from Rocky Fork Fellowship in Hallsville, Missouri, one of the area churches that supports CCH. During the 15 minutes I had been there, they had carried on a continual conversation, ranging from cars to lemurs to the art of grilling. They interrupted their train of thought long enough to answer my question.
“We do this so the Campus House staff doesn’t have to,” said Phil. “They need to be in there talking to the students that show up.”
“That’s great,” I agreed. “But I want to know why you do this. Each of you. Why do you get involved in this or other volunteer opportunities with the church? What do you get out of it?”
“I don’t get all that many opportunities to hang out with these guys outside of church,” came Joe’s quick response, as he mopped the sweat off his brow. “Doing things like this helps me get to know them better.” Heads nodded in agreement all around.
“That’s a good question,” said Eric. “I never think about the benefit to me. I don’t do things so someone will come to me and say, ‘Hey I saw what you were doing; you did a great job.’ I don’t expect that; I don’t want that. That’s not the reason at all.”
Phil grinned and paused in his burger flipping. “Earlier today I was at another ministry up toward Macon, helping them out, so I guess I’m gonna wind up on a little higher cloud than you guys because I’ve really been serving today.”
That brought a good laugh all around and then a runner showed up saying they needed more burgers and dogs soon, so the guys got back to the business of doing what needed to be done.
It’s a good question though. Why would men choose to spend their precious off-work hours being involved in volunteer work with the church, when they could be watching TV or puttering in the garden? What’s in it for them?
Some men blame the demands of their career for keeping them from volunteering. But those who choose to serve soon discover their mission-minded moonlighting can actually be of great benefit to their working life.
Steve, who works for the local university, said including church leadership experience on a resume can be helpful. “I think still today nine out of ten times it will be seen as a strength by potential employers. It tells the employer you have leadership skills you’re using in a community setting. Also if you’re active in the community, most will see it as an indication that your character will be above average, even stellar.”
Nate, an IT professional, sees a symbiotic relationship between his work on the job and his work in the church. “There are experiences and opportunities from my involvement at church that help make me a better employee. That said, it works the other way as well. I’m able to use skills and talents I’ve learned in my work life to better serve God’s kingdom.”
Steve agreed. “In any management or supervisory job, you need soft skills, the ability to communicate and interact effectively with people. By becoming involved in church programs, you learn those people skills. You learn to manage conflict, to do long-range planning, and to steward resources.”
Nate said one of the biggest impacts of his church service comes out in his interactions with people at work. “I’ve had numerous conversations with coworkers about my involvement at church. It provides opportunities to share my faith and to demonstrate what living it out looks like in a very tangible way. I can share with friends and coworkers about using my vacation time to go on youth trips as a sponsor and tell them stories about mentoring high schoolers. It can open the doors to all kinds of conversations and questions. They say, ‘Wait, you took a week of vacation time to go serve someone else? Why would you do that?’”
As far as my own volunteering, I’ve seen benefits to my marriage. My wife and I have been serving together at a prison ministry for several years. Monday evening is date night for us. As soon as I get home from work, we head out on the road. Halfway to the prison we stop at a small diner for supper together. Then we continue on to the prison, where we spend the better part of two hours together, interacting with a crowd of women in prison, before heading back home. That’s more than five hours we spend together each Monday, serving together, talking together, being challenged together. Our marriage has never been stronger.
We’re not alone.
“Early in our marriage my wife and I were able to be involved together in community programs and general outreach to needy people,” Steve said. “That forced us to work together cooperatively as a team, serving to strengthen our marriage. We were able to experience each other in new settings.”
Eric and David, part of the Free Feast grilling crew, both said they volunteer for service to set an example for their kids.
“They see what I do and why I do it,” said Dave. “And they grow up wanting to do the same.”
“It helps me be a better husband and father,” said Nate. “It helps model to my family the example Jesus himself set, in that he came to serve, not to be served. When there are opportunities for us to serve at church as a family, it’s even greater!”
“Any event or activity where you can participate as a family strengthens the entire family,” said Steve.
Lydia, a staff member at the Mizzou CCH, said she grew up in a home where involvement in ministry was the norm. “My dad was involved in ministry to people, so there were always people in our home. That meant there were so many more people in my life, setting an example for who I was growing up to be.”
All because she had a father who knew the value of serving the Lord.
A Serving of Happiness
When I asked Billy what blessings he gets from serving, his answer came in an instant, without a moment’s thought.
“Happiness,” he said. “It doesn’t come from money or stuff or any of the things I used to think would make me happy. Serving the Lord: that’s pure joy.”
“It gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment,” Nate chimed in. “When I’m serving others, I’m not looking at myself.”
Alan agreed. “Service is a requisite for a healthy mind. If you’re depressed or bored, go help somebody.”
“I’m just sharper spiritually and emotionally when I’ve been saying yes to opportunities to serve, to teach, to lead worship,” said Steve. “My thinking skills are sharper. I think God built it in: you feel better about yourself, more confident, more assured you can handle things.”
Alan, a corporate pilot, added that being involved in church service is his connection to people. “That’s important, especially for a loner like me. I’m afraid if I was left to my own devices, my connection to people would be pretty slim.”
Billy is a long-haul truck driver and he echoed that thought. “That’s right. Truck drivers, airplane pilots, we’re always on the road, so we don’t have many friends. Our friends are the people we work alongside when we can get involved in the church.”
Wayland, now retired, said, “In my personal life, the church has provided me with great friends and personal support through the years. They’ve become my family.”
For David, it’s also a way to return the favor. “This is the way the church reached out to me,” he said as he throws some more hot dogs on the grill. “There are students like I was, coming to this campus, who don’t know Christ. The Free Feast was one of the things that brought me in, and I want to make sure they have the same opportunity. There’s lots of ways the church reaches out to people, and when you see what brought you in, why not carry it on?”
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.