In church we often hear the questions, “Are there any volunteers for the canning on Friday?” “Can I get a volunteer for the prayer?” “Who would like to do this service on Tuesday night?” “We need five people to go help with this move Saturday morning at 7:00. By raise of hands, who would like to do that?” While this way of asking for service may have its merits, I believe there is a far better way that yields much greater blessings to more members and others. It is found in the assignment.
To be sure, it is much easier for leaders to ask for volunteers. I have done so many times myself when in leadership positions. Volunteering puts virtually no pressure on anyone, leaders and members alike, other than some diverted glances and awkward moments of silence. Those who want to do a service will raise their hand. Those who don’t, won’t. The leader is safe; those who do the service essentially asked for it. Everyone is happy in the end. And then we move forward and mistakenly record these as “assignments.”
A few years ago there was an article on this subject in the Church News. It was entitled “By Assignment.” Joseph Smith organized and administered the establishment of the Church by assignment, and his successors followed suit:
On March 1, 1841, at the suggestion of Joseph Smith, men in the four wards of the Church in Nauvoo were assigned to work on the temple.
A few years later, when the body of saints planned to wagon their way west, members were organized into companies of hundreds, and into fifties and tens, with each person having specific assignments.
When the people reached Utah, they attended conferences where names were read from the pulpit of people who were assigned to take their families into the wilderness and there establish communities.
The article cites the example of one member, Charles Walker, in the early days of the Church who was called and assigned to help colonize and settle Cotton County in southern Utah. He recorded in his journal:
This was the hardes(t) trial I ever had and had it not been for the gospel and those that were placed over me I should never moved a foot to go on such a trip, but then I came here not to do my will but the will of those — that are over me, and I know it will be right if I do right.
Br. Walker’s assignment was not easy. It was extremely difficult. It was one which he would not have volunteered himself. But it did several things which volunteering would have been weaker or could not have done:
- It was a true sacrifice, in similitude of Christ’s “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
- It allowed an exercise of faith in God.
- It permitted obedience to the direct call of a priesthood leader. “Yes, I will go and do.”
- It allowed for the fulfillment of a priesthood call.
- It allowed for greater organization and mobilization within the Church.
- Priesthood leaders received revelation to choose which members were called to what assignments.
- Gave all an opportunity to serve in the kingdom, which might not otherwise be taken.
- Greater blessings were poured out in consequence, for all members, others, and the kingdom of God.
What if Joseph Smith or Brigham Young had asked for a raise of hands? The article continues:
Imagine if Brigham Young had tried to settle the West with only volunteers: Instead of reading a list of names, the Church leader would ask for those who would like to settle the southern deserts at risk of life, family and loss of fortune.
It would never have happened. The Church would not have accomplished its purposes with volunteers only, for there would have been few:
The kingdom of God on earth was not built by volunteers, though volunteers are appreciated. Nor is it in the economy and harmony of the gospel for the same few volunteers to do all the work. To the contrary, gospel work blesses those who do it, and the entire quorum, group or society should be included, according to the wisdom of the leader in considering personal capacities and situations.
The blessings that flow from true assignments is how the Church was established. It was how Joseph Smith worked. It was how Brigham Young worked. It is how General Authorities serve today. It is how members of the church, and our neighbors, can be blessed today.
Imagine the blessings that everyone would receive if they were afforded the opportunity to respond to the direct call and assignment from their church leaders. Imagine instead of a raise of hands, a call (either face-to-face or on the phone) was extended: “Br. Smith, will you serve at the cannery Thursday evening from 7-9pm?” “Sister Johnson, will you come with us to visit the nursing home on Wednesday? “Br. Haymond, will you help the Hutchings family move this Saturday morning from 8-9am?”
For me, it is easier to respond affirmatively to the call of an assignment from my leaders, than to offer to be a volunteer of my own accord. Perhaps volunteering is the norm where I live. Maybe it is different in your area. What do you see as the differences between volunteering and assignments? What are the pros and cons? Why don’t we extend assignments more often versus asking for volunteers? Please share your thoughts in the comments.