5 Poisonous Motivations to Volunteer


By John Albiston

People choose to volunteer for many reasons.  It’s not simply that many people have many reasons, it’s every person has many reasons.  Some of those reasons are good and healthy reasons that will build and strengthen the volunteer relationship.  Unfortunately some of those reasons will undermine and poison that same relationship.

As leaders of volunteers it’s necessary to recognize unhealthy motives and encourage healthy motives instead.

Here are some of the most common unhealthy motives for volunteering:

  1. Need for Affirmation

Some people haven’t really got the whole identity-in-Christ thing, and instead find their personal identity in the affirmations of other people.  While it’s always a good idea to affirm our volunteers, if your volunteers are there because you affirm them you are in big trouble!

One, they will have a lower commitment to excellence, because they’re passionate about themselves, not the greater mission.  Two, they will be short-lived volunteers, because sooner or later your affirmations will not be enough.  And three, you’re not helping them out spiritually if you don’t recognize the deeper spiritual identity issue.

  1. Guilt & Fear of Letting People Down

This is the flip side of number one.  These people still are basing their identities on the opinions of others, but this time it’s fear of negative opinions rather than need for affirmation that drives them.  Sure, these people might seem handy in a pinch, but they will rightfully grow resentful over time if you take advantage of them.  Be their pastor and teach them that their identity is not based on other people’s opinions, but on the Creator that loves them.

  1. Desire for control

Watch out for this one!  People who serve in order to gain power and control will mess you up.  There’s only one king in this kingdom, and that’s Christ.  Rebel kingdoms, turfs, and territories are highly destructive. These people will hurt those who lead them, those who work with them, those they lead, and those they serve.  Clear teaching on what it means to have a servant’s heart may win some of them back, but those who won’t change their attitude will have to be removed.

  1. Personal Ambition

This can be a tricky one, because it is a good thing to aspire to be a leader – if, and only if, that aspiration is based on a motivation to serve others.  There is a big difference between someone who gives in order to demonstrate love, and someone who gives only in order to get.  The person who serves out of personal ambition is only serving because of what they will eventually get out of it.

Be it power, position, or prestige, the personally ambitious volunteer is only out to serve their own interests, and if they don’t eventually get what they want you will eventually feel their wrath and resentment.

  1. Personal favor

This can be fine as a very temporary band-aid fix, but it’s very destructive in the long run.  For one thing, we ultimately want people to serve out of their love and loyalty to God, not to you.  And another thing, is that we want people to serve where God has gifted and called them to serve, not just where it’s convenient for you.

If you allow someone to serve long term out of a personal favor to you, they may be helping you, but you in no way are helping them.

In part 2 we’ll look at 3 Valiant Motives to Volunteer.

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