Volunteer- What is Flexible?

In my previous blog post we talked about why it is important to be flexible. Now let’s talk about what being flexible really means. As I mentioned before, many of us have different definitions of the word flexible. Because of this we have a different idea about what it means for us to be flexible. From this point forward I want us to be on the same page with what being flexible really means. The following is the dictionary.com definition of the word flexible:


1. capable of being bent, usually without breaking; easily bent: a flexible ruler.
2. susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable: a flexible schedule.
3. willing or disposed to yield; pliable: a flexible personality.

You can see from this definition that being flexible has a definitive, and not a relative, meaning. It’s interesting how we think about being flexible and it’s not difficult to think of something being easy to bend, but how often do we really think about something bending without breaking? Take a blade of grass; it can bend flat to the ground, yet it does not break. However, if you bend a twig far enough it has a tangible breaking point. An interesting point to consider is that we usually don’t think about flexibility until something is put to the test. This means you cannot truly be flexible if everything is going as planned. It’s like the word submission. By definition, submission cannot exist until agreement ends; only at that point can you truly submit. Just the same, flexibility cannot exist unless the plan is altered outside of your control or desire. What does this mean for us? Obviously there is a limit to how far we can bend in the natural, but is there a limit to how far we can bend in the spiritual? Let’s take a look to see how flexible you may actually be.

On my first short-term mission trip overseas we had a series of meeting prior to our departure date. During these meetings our team leader would talk to us about our need to be flexible. At the time I had no idea what the big deal was. Once the trip started I learned what being flexible was all about. Before the trip really got started we missed our flight because the highway was shut down due to a massive auto accident. Three days behind schedule we finally made it to our destination. We were in much smaller rooms than I anticipated, took cold showers, worked on little sleep, all with a bunch of crazy teenagers. We ate food that did not agree with me, our schedule constantly changed, our team merged  with a group from California that had a leader with a strong personality and they added more crazy teenagers. Needless to say, I would not have survived, and nearly didn’t, if I had not been flexible. Even though I had been trained, I had no idea what it would mean to be flexible. I found out very quickly what it meant for me.

What does this have to do with you and the local church? In short, everything. Any local church that has worked through a disaster in their own community can tell you things change quickly. Some examples we have seen of quick change in the past are:

– One moment volunteers are allowed to work and the next minute they’re not.
– At 8am lunch is being served at such and such place. Then at 8:30am, after all volunteers have left, lunch is now being served on the other side of town.
– On Monday they are sorting debris into five separate piles. Tuesday the debris has to be in seven different piles.

This is a very small list, but any one of these can create a stressful day for both the volunteer and the local church. As the one volunteering, you need to be able to deal with the situation properly. There is nothing more difficult for a church going through disaster than having to deal with rigid volunteers. Many times this rigidness is expressed through verbal comments and statement. Without thinking, many well-intended volunteers have made comments that hurt the local church. Here is a list of a few of the “rigid” volunteer statements we hear most.

10 Common Statements Heard by Rigid Volunteers:

1)  “They aren’t at all organized. We’re just wasting time. We should already be out working.”
2)  “I’m here to be a blessing, whatever you need us to do, but his isn’t what I signed up for. I thought we would be doing something different.”
3)  “That’s not what they told us an hour ago. Don’t they know what they are doing? Things change too quickly around here”
4)  “I came with my friends. Why can’t I work with them today?”
5)  “I’ve been in disasters before. Why do I need to do another orientation?”
6)  “This doesn’t make any sense. They didn’t do it this way in the last disaster we helped with!”
7)  “I have experience in this. Why can’t I just lead a team?”
8)  “I’m a Pastor…a deacon…a minister….etc. I shouldn’t be doing this or that, but….”
9)  “We brought equipment that I can take out and use. It’s such a waste to bring this and not use it”
10) “Can you use us for this or that? If not we’re going to move on down the road.”

Some of these statements may not seem like a big deal, but they can cause hurt to those in the local church. The church is working hard to help those in need, and they are relying on you and your flexibility to get the job done. The last thing we want to do is cause more harm than good.

What I want to talk about next talks less about what flexibility is and more about what it is not. I’ll touch on my next statement in more detail in a later post, but it’s no less important to mention here. This volunteer effort is not about you. Many of us go into a disaster response with dreams of grandeur. What do I mean by that? Our main focus may not be on notoriety for ourselves, yet deep down we want to say with pride, “Yeah, I was there.” I’m speaking from my own experiences, as well as the experiences of others. We have an innate desire to be right in the heart of what we have seen on news broadcasts. We want to be where the “biggest” hurt is. This is a noble idea, but the truth is that the people living just outside the worst areas were hit as well. They sometimes have a harder time processing because many of them do not, or cannot see the totality of their situation. They have needs that are just as urgent as anyone else. A huge part of being flexible is being willing to work where you are needed the most on any given day. One day it may be sorting clothes, another day may be clearing debris, and yet another day may be praying and ministering to hurting people. My point is this: if we are to truly be flexible, we must put the needs of the church and community above our own desires.

No matter what your reasons for volunteering are, always keep in mind you are there to serve the local church, not for the church to serve you. Every need of yours that the church has to cater to takes vital resources from the community. Being flexible shows how far you are willing to go to help a neighbor in need. It is a direct representation of the love of Christ that is in you. The next time you find yourself volunteering in a disaster I encourage you to push through any temptation to look at your needs and comfort and focus on the needs of the community and church you are there to serve.

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