Retirement. Empty nest. Free time. You may be ready to be a volunteer. Of all the elements that contribute to a positive volunteering experience, perhaps the most important factor is whether that volunteer activity is the right fit for you. Trying to drive a square peg into a round hole is painful and frustrating, especially if that square peg happens to be you.
If you want to know the full joy of serving others and advancing God’s kingdom, you need to put some effort into arranging a suitable match between your gifts and your opportunities. This isn’t difficult, but it does require some thought.
Jesus seems to have had the principle of “fit” in mind when He called His disciples to abandon their former careers and join Him in His mission. Seeing Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea — “for they were fishermen” (Matthew 4:18) — He tailored His call precisely to their situation.
“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ ” (Matthew 4:19). Christ not only recognized but also emphasized their natural skills and training. He came up with a bigger and better application for their talents. It was a perfect fit!
Like Peter and Andrew, you need to find a place in God’s larger purpose that makes use of the person you’ve become over the course of your life. It’s important to volunteer for something that you genuinely like doing or believe in. Otherwise your service may feel more like drudgery and you’ll easily get burned out. Here are some ways to avoid that:
Take time to consider what you enjoy. Make a list of five things you have to offer and five things you’d like to explore. Ask yourself three basic questions: 1) What am I passionate about? 2) What am I good at? and 3) If I do this, can I expect a positive return on my time and energy? This “positive return” doesn’t necessarily have to be in terms of measurable success. It may simply be in the satisfaction of fulfilling your calling.
Be open to trying new things
Previous skills and experiences are important when deciding how and where you will volunteer. A man who has worked all his life as a plumber probably won’t want to sew dresses for needy children. However your “passion” doesn’t have to be something you’ve already done. It’s never too late to learn new skills, and it can be energizing to tackle something you’ve never tried before.
Do your research
Before making yourself available as a volunteer, take a look at the organizations where you might like to serve. Visit their websites and find out what they’re all about. See if you can contact current or former volunteers to ask about their experiences. Drive down to their headquarters and walk around a bit before arriving at a final decision.
Specific task or larger vision
Some folks are happy doing anything they can for a given organization — say, World Vision, Focus on the Family or Compassion International — because they believe strongly in the mission of that group. They don’t mind sweeping floors or taking out the trash if it furthers the cause of helping needy children. Others don’t care where they work provided they can do something they enjoy. This is a matter of individual choice. Whatever you do, the sense of having found a good fit as a volunteer will help make it a fulfilling experience.
Serving together … or not
Married couples should think carefully about whether they want to volunteer together or separately. Here, too, the question of fit is paramount. Husbands and wives often have very different skills and interests. They may also differ in terms of their passions and commitments. You need to take a close look at yourselves and find out what’s likely to work best for you.
God calls us to serve others in His name, putting others first and selflessly giving of ourselves. Remember: No matter where you are in your journey, you can make meaningful changes. Volunteering can be a great way to explore God’s purposes for your future.