Developing an Emergency Fund of Volunteers

Uncategorized Oct 07, 2019

Well-known radio personality, Dave Ramsey, promotes a first baby step to financial freedom on his radio program. Ramsey instructs the listener to collect $1,000 into an emergency fund before taking on any other financial steps. I have found one of the benefits to following this advice is that the savings account changes the definition of emergency. Before following Ramsey’s guidance, a damaged tire with a replacement cost of $70 (back in the day of course) constituted an all-hands-on-deck emergency. The emergency account reduced the crisis to the level of an irritant with little consequence to daily life.

While Ramsey’s advice is regarded as rock-solid financial guidance, many churches could benefit from a volunteer emergency account. A volunteer emergency account is a pool of people who are not being used routinely for a program to function. This limits churches in much the same way as the lack of an emergency fund.

It is not unusual to hear of a church that loses a pastor suddenly due to death, disease, or some other personal crisis. The crisis of the pastor often results in an ecclesiastical crisis as the leadership of the church becomes headless and directionless. To a lesser degree, this same type of predicament can occur when a long-term Sunday School teacher, deacon, worship leader, or even a stalwart nursery worker leaves the equation.

I have endeavored to train up an unused emergency account of skilled volunteers where I have served even though I ministered in small communities and churches. Building a volunteer emergency account usually requires an adjustment of vision. We love to put our highly skilled and experienced in lead positions doing most of the work. This natural pattern, however, does not build a church’s emergency account of skilled volunteers. Several counter-intuitive or uncomfortable steps must be taken to develop the church’s emergency account.

  1. A rural church cannot depend on skilled move-ins. Particularly in a smaller church, we cannot depend on a skilled worker to come along. It happens at times but is something of an outlier. This reality requires that we develop the believers that God has put in our congregation at this time. If we believe that God designed the whole body to function together and that both the universal and local bodies are “held together by every joint with which it is equipped (Ephesians 4:16, ESV),” we must believe that God has brought the people that the local church needs.
  2. A new disciple may initially look rough. Some of the people that God brings our way can be tremendously rough diamonds. My community is awash with drug addiction, alcohol abuse, excessive gambling, and all the problems that accompany. It has been a delightful revelation watching God polish the rough edges and bring out some marvelous people. Regardless of the outward appearance or issues, “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7, ESV).” We do not put in an order to God for a teacher or counselor. God often delivers to the church the raw material He knows we need. It is the responsibility of the church to develop what God has given.
  3. A new disciple requires the opportunity to grow. As we cultivate new people, we provide the unproven disciples with experience to go with their teaching. This move necessitated that our best people were not always in the lead positions. It is at this point that a smaller church often has an advantage as members tend to be more patient with inexperienced volunteers. This is not to say that new volunteers are not supervised and encouraged to grow. My experience is that a new teacher, for instance, usually wants to become better and will typically accept direction and instruction gladly.

When one has an emergency account, opportunities that were once beyond reach become accessible. When pork roast goes on sale but only in ten-pound packages, my wife knows that we can grab the sale price. It will save us money in the long run. In ministry life, a church having more volunteers than are required will often discover new ministry venues in the community. An excess of teachers allowed our church to contribute several who helped start a recovery program in our community. Although the need had always been there, the ability to meet it was beyond our reach until we developed new people. We didn’t initially see the possibility, but we were able to grab the “sale” when it presented itself because we had already trained an emergency fund of volunteers.

Written by John Murray

I serve a small, isolated community in the desert of Nevada. I have discipled believers for over thirty years in rural and suburban churches as well as a major public university. You can contact me at [email protected]


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