Why I Give, Why I Volunteer And Why I Just Stepped Up To Do More Of Both
I have struggled for a while about sharing this. I never want to distract from what God could be speaking to someone and draw the attention to myself and something I've done in obedience to Him. But, I have nothing to offer if I don't have my story. So here we are.
As you know, my family and I pastor a small church in Chesapeake, Virginia. I was also raised in a pastor's home. I watched my parents pour their lives and guts into the cities God placed them. I have spent almost every weekend of my 35 years and most weeknights in prayer meetings, worship gatherings, and small group circles. Church has been my life. Even when I was growing up I never had a concept of just attending church as a spectator or attending for the purpose of being fed. That's just not the approach that was demonstrated before me and I've never been able to comprehend that mindset. Church has been a place to serve, a group of people that depended on your time and resources, a place of belonging to something much bigger than yourself and yet somehow also being an intricate cog in that something, a part that would be desperately missed if you weren't faithful to contribute.
I remember nights of long revival services, going for six weeks in a row at times, every night of the week, when my parents knew I had school the next day, tests even, but they also knew that there was something much more valuable to be learned in the altar of the church, on my knees, crying out to God. Sometimes with homework to do (It would later be done late into the night. My mom was a teacher after all!) but also there were worship songs to lead and choir parts to practice. And, anyway, God was moving each night in such a remarkable way that no one could fathom missing a night of what He was going to do. You didn't want to ever be away. I remember the stark realization as a teenager, of stressing that I knew I had impending homework left when I got home, but then seeing the teenager from my high school, who seemed lightyears separated from God, run to those same altars and give his life to Jesus. I would have much more than a finished homework assignment to take with me the next day to school! I would have the story of how the buck-wild high school student with thatreputation just turned his life around and was now making plans to plug into our Spirit-filled youth group community and was set ablaze with the fire of God, determined to spread that Gospel message to every other buck-wild buddy of his at school.
I remember countless nights of my dad not being home because he worked a third shift job every night of the week in order to provide for our family but still have Sundays off to pastor our church. He worked all night so he would have days available to visit church people and tend to the many needs of our church family, most of them brand new converts to Jesus, straight off the streets of Atlanta. I remember my mom working until 5:00 in the evening in one city and driving an hour and 45 minutes to where our church was so she could lead worship and direct the choir. This went on for years and sometimes back-to-back for nightly revival services when God was moving in a unique way for weeks at a time. She would get up the next morning to leave at 6 am, drive to work and do it all again.
When I left my parents' home and married Josh there was a call, already placed on our life together that we would pour out our all for God and His church, His bride. It was never about cultural obligation or family tradition, though it certainly could fit into those categories. He had first called us individually and now we would join forces in the same pursuit. It was an identity of who we were as a couple, as a family. It was never and has never been about being pastors of a big church or some kind of successful career. It was always about giving all we had to preach the message of Jesus, to introduce the lost and hurting to a beautiful savior and however big a platform God wanted to provide, the more people we could reach in the most effective manner possible, the better. We united as a house and we would give of our money, our resources, our time, our worship, and anything else He asked of us. Period. Nothing to discuss or decide.
That's still us. 13 years later.
We had been giving to the church faithfully for years. I was raised to give 10% of your resources back to the Lord and that's what we had been doing. There was no question in our minds about whether or not we should be obedient there. Several years after we were married we both felt God calling us to give more. We decided to accept the challenge to continue increasing our giving as long as the Lord led us to. The decision was prompted when our rent obligation decreased in the home we were in. What a blessing! Instead of changing the way we were spending, we felt the Lord leading us to give more. I had once read about a family that gave 90% and lived on 10%. It changed my whole approach to giving! Oh, how I wanted to one day not just have those kinds of resources (most people would pray that!) but to then be able to give it right back to the Lord, continuing to steward the resources He had already blessed me with and use the extra to give back to His church! We agreed God was speaking and we obeyed.
A few months ago I began praying for our church's resources. As a staff, we felt the Lord placings some specific dreams and goals for the future on our hearts. I felt the Lord leading me to pray specific prayers for our church's finances and resources in order to fulfill the things we felt like God was placing on our hearts. Then, I felt Him prompt me to give a specific amount. He spoke straight into my heart about sowing a financial seed into our church, a tithe on not what He had already provided but on what I was asking Him to provide. Let me tell you, that was a lot harder to obey. This time I wasn't giving from a place of extra. Not only did I feel like my family was already at a level of sacrifice but He was asking me to tithe on something I couldn't even see yet! But, because I had obeyed Him before and knew intimately of His faithfulness in ALL things, the obedience came easier than I expected. He has not disappointed and I feel excited about what kind of faithfulness will come from this step of obedience.
When we started Vertical Church there was an obvious need for a worship leader. The need was there, God had given me the ability, so I volunteered. It wasn't a "let me pray about that" or "God's probably got someone else better in mind". It was a moment of obedience. I volunteered and the need was met. I promise you I did not, and often still don't, feel adequate to the challenge. But, I can't express how much God has grown my faith and my identity in Him since the day I stepped up. I needed lots of maturing and development along the way and God has been faithful to meet me in my obedience to Him. I volunteer every Sunday at Vertical Church to lead a theater full of 100 or so adults into the presence of God. I give of my time each week to plan, pray over and rehearse the direction in which He is moving our worship. It's not always perfect but He's always there. Not long ago, when I felt like I was searching for Him in my own worship I just told God, "I'm just needing to dig into You this morning and worship You through this thing I'm going through. Hopefully You'll help all those other people join in with me because that's where I'm at this morning, Lord. And I feel like that's all I've got." He was, of course, gloriously faithful that morning at VC. This week I agreed to take on more in my volunteer roles at our church. There is a need, God has given me the ability, so I volunteered. I know that He will be faithful again and I will soon marvel at how He blesses and uses this opportunity to grow His church.
Let me re-emphasize, none of this is about me. I'm not saying any of this to draw attention or appreciation to myself. I'm simply telling my story about how long ago God set the bar high in my life, directing my parents to obey and lead the way. About how we now place similar responsibilities and expectations on our own childrens' time and priorities, teaching them the same. About how volunteering my time and giving of my resources has never been something to consider or mull over. It has just been a series of opportunities to obey and see God move. He is faithful. Every time. It doesn't matter if you're King Solomon with all your riches to build a temple of beauty and great design for His name, or if you're the boy with the meager loaves and fishes, just making yourself and seemingly-lacking resources available to be used for Him. It all matters and He desires it all.
This is His church and no matter what anyone else says or complains about, it is on the rise. He has a movement already in the process and He's asking you to join in. It's your choice, how much you give of yourself and your family. He will use it all and He will bless you and pour out His love on you even if sometimes you hold back. But, what if? What if there was a new day where the church had all she needed to meet all the needs? What if when storms like Irma and Harvey came through, we found ourselves a part of something greater than The Red Cross, greater than the American relief organizations, able to meet the need, show up, be Jesus to everyone hurting and lost, and just take care of it? What if?
Because, that dream, the dream of being His church, the way He designed it, is why i give of my time and my resources.