Words matter. When you hear the word “volunteer,” what do you think of? When you hear the word “disciple,” what do you think of? Being a volunteer is a good start, but becoming a disciple is the next step on the path of holiness.
In the second to last line of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations….” Disciples make other disciples. Jesus is very clear: He is not looking for volunteers. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a disciple. If you call yourself a disciple, are you reflecting the light of Jesus with your words and actions to others?
Unknowingly, I think many of us are operating at the “volunteer” level and not at the “disciple” level. Why? Because I think many of us don’t really trust God all the time. We like control. We like comfort. When I volunteer, I usually do it when it fits into “my” schedule and when it is convenient for me. When I disciple, it’s according to God’s timeline, His plan, not mine. Discipleship recognizes that time is a gift from God. All of time is His. By using time according to God’s plan, that becomes our gift back to God.
Do you want to grow as a disciple? Then let’s change the words we use to help change our perspective.
Volunteer implies giving some of my time. Disciple implies a way of life. It’s not something that I do, it’s how I live.
Volunteer brings a little pride and ego into the picture. People like being recognized for their accomplishments. Disciple is based in humility, becoming more God-centered and other-centered, and less self-centered.
Volunteer sometimes puts the focus on me. “Look what I did!” Disciple puts others’ needs first. It puts the focus on Jesus, not on me.
Volunteer usually involves short intervals in other people’s lives, still remaining strangers to each other. Disciple means walking with each person one at a time, through their ups and downs, and developing a personal relationship.
Volunteer is usually temporary happiness. I complain about it most of the time, happy when I do it, but then the feeling fades. Disciple usually grows in inner peace and joy, regardless of the circumstances.
Volunteer implies I make a choice to participate or not. Disciple implies I have already made the choice. I choose God.
In a recent reflection, Father Christopher Martin, vicar for strategic planning for the archdiocese, said, “Jesus didn’t come to earth to become more human. He came to earth to make us more divine.” Something to keep in mind as we move from volunteer to disciple.
Let us pray. Lord, fill us with faith, fill us with grace, grant us humility and preserve us from evil that we may all become better disciples and point people to You. We pray that all we do be for the greater glory and honor of your name!
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.