Sunday, June 12, 2016

Feel Good Volunteerism is Misguided

The young man was inspiring, articulate, full of passion, determined to make a difference, and so incredibly misguided. Yes, you read that correctly. I heard him speak at a gathering of evangelicals from the northeast. The gathering represented a wide array of denominations. Several testimonies were shared by Christian young people about how they were serving others in the name of the Lord. Though the testimonies were inspiring, they all had a similar misguided theme. One young man said "Do what makes you happy and meets needs around you." Another said "Let's do what makes us feel right and whole while helping others." Several others speakers expressed the same idea that we should do what makes us feel good while helping those around us. 

On the surface that might sound like an acceptable premise. However, if we reflect more deeply on the comments they reveal a motivation that is less than honorable. For that group, the primary purpose of serving was to feel happy and whole. Though nothing is wrong with feeling happy and whole, that should be a by-product of serving, not the primary motivation.

Why is this an important issue to clarify? If our primary motivation is to feel good about ourselves then our service will likely ignore needs that might be extremely important but not enjoyable. For example, we might be willing to serve food in a soup kitchen but unwilling to wash the dishes at the same soup kitchen. Or perhaps we are willing to join a group of volunteers building a house for a homeless family but unwilling to volunteer at a shelter for homeless addicts. Perhaps we are willing to tutor at risk teens but unwilling to help juvenile offenders gain a GED. All of these things are needed but may not be equal in how they make us feel.

Some types of volunteer service make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Other types of service do not provide the same level of fuzzy feelings but are equally importnat. Some types of service will even make us feel uncomfortable, discouraged and frustrated. Should we avoid those avenues of service? 

Consider the challenging words of Christ in Luke 6:32-35 where He calls us to serve in ways for which we gain no advantage. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." Jesus makes a powerful point. Christian service does not always reward us in the short term, but it should always make us more like Jesus, which in the end is really the goal. 

This week, instead of choosing to serve a way that makes us feel good, let's choose to do a hard thing that no one else wants to do. It will make a difference in ways we cannot measure.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He has written a number of books, including one about how the spirit of offense is destroying our current society. You can find all of his books at:


  1. Much of our service is self serving and misguided. It's even worse when we do make work for mission work.

  2. Spot on Brother! . . . It's not about us . . . Never has been . . . It's about Him . . .