My Question: the Unemployed as Volunteers

I have a question.

“I volunteer on my church’s committee to help the unemployed in our congregation. I want to know how we can reach out to the unemployed and ask them to help with things around the church without insulting them. Recently our facilities manager asked me to help him engage the unemployed in some major tasks in our facility. The catch is some of our unemployed are embarrassed to be identified.”

from Leslie in St. Louis
June 2009


Thanks, Leslie, for your question. It’s certainly an appropriate one for this time we find ourselves in. I don’t have any pat answers, but am happy to share some thoughts.

I think the key is in the phrase you used: “reach out to the unemployed.” Reaching out is caring. But if a church’s goal is to get the unemployed to do things, you’re simply using them. People know when they’re being used, and they generally don’t respond well to it. Plus it’s certainly not God-pleasing.

To do this well, you’ll need to work with your pastor and other leaders so that when you contact them, you are aware of what resources are available through your church. When you meet with them, it is to find out what kind of help they need: some food from the food pantry, or a night of free babysitting so they can go out on a cheap date, or prayer support for specific needs, or whatever. In that context, it is appropriate to also ask:

“We’re wondering if would it be helpful to you to have some meaningful work to do as you are job hunting? If it works for you, it would also be a way to help others. Here are some options . . . Or I can work with you to find something that fits your skills and interests.” All this would be done individually and privately to avoid embarrassment. It might work well for the pastor or someone from a care committee to first meet with the unemployed person, and then to bring you in if the person is interested in volunteering.

An unemployed person is hurting and worried. This is a time to reach out in love and concern and support. Volunteering can be a way for them to feel useful and productive again, when it’s something they choose to do.

I’d be interested to hear how it goes, Leslie. I know it’s not easy to balance the “we care about you” and the “we could sure use the help” attitudes. All we can do it try our best and let God lead.

Comment, or ask a question of your own, below.

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