I am not into arm-twisting when it comes to recruiting volunteers for service in the church. And whenever someone thinks I am being “soft” on people by not making them feel guilty, I respond with conviction: “That kind of approach is not consistent with the gospel of grace.”
Yet, that does not mean we ignore guilt because only true guilt can lead us to grace. We all have times when we feel guilty. Guilt in and of itself is not a bad thing. Guilt is the response of the conscience to things we have done or left undone. Guilt is the conscience telling us that we have done something wrong or have not done the good we know we ought to have done. It is what we do with the guilt that determines the trajectory of our Christian lives.
There are several ways we can respond to guilt. We can rationalize our guilt and not accept the truth about what we have done. When we use phrases like “it’s not my fault,” “it’s only wrong if I get caught,” “I didn’t hurt anybody,” “they deserved it,” and “it’s not that bad,” then our conscience can be seared like a hot iron so that we eventually do not feel guilty. The result is of this is always hardness of heart.
Another inappropriate way of dealing with guilt is the opposite of denying guilt; it is to hyper-focus on the guilt by feeling ashamed. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt feels bad for actions done or not done. Shame feels bad for who I am, as if I am incapable of being good. Shame believes I do bad things because I am bad and deserve the consequences. In other words, shame is really false guilt.
The result of shame and false guilt is always one of two responses: either we become inactive through feelings of discouragement and defeat; or, we become hyperactive by working like crazy to feel better and hope that the guilt and shame go away. It is to impose a certain penance upon yourself in order to cope with the dirty feelings of guilt.
But the good news is that every one of us can have freedom from guilt and a clear conscience because of Jesus Christ. If we have been victimized in the past, we no longer have to feel ashamed as though we caused or deserved the violence done to us. If we have said or done some truly egregious things that displease God and damage others, we no longer have to live with the regret and guilt on our consciences. If we have failed others and God by not living up to who we ought to be, we no longer have to live day after day with our consciences bound with guilt.
Here’s why we experience freedom and a clear conscience: Christ has obtained eternal redemption for us by his blood (Hebrews 9:11-14). Back in the Old Testament sacrificial system, the high priest would enter the temple/tabernacle to offer animal sacrifice. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) he would enter the Most Holy Place. The Ark of the Covenant was there. The priest would slaughter the heifer and take some blood and sprinkle it on the altar.
There were all kinds of rituals to perform in order to access God, and even then the sprinkling of blood only outwardly took care of cleansing the people. But when Jesus offered himself once for all, the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the people was torn from top to bottom. The way has been opened for not only an outward purification, but an inward cleansing of a guilty conscience so that we might now serve the living God with freedom and confidence.
All are now welcome at Christ’s Table. There are no hoops to jump through. There is only a radical hospitality that accepts everyone who comes to God by faith in Jesus. We are holy because of the blood of Jesus Christ. We can now serve God with joy and not serve him in order to gain spiritual brownie points and assuage our guilt.
Service in the church needs to be motivated not by feelings of guilt but by a deep awareness of grace. When we are overwhelmed with grace, to serve is to love God, which is the very thing we become eager to do. So, when recruiting volunteers, take the route of inspiring grace in others, not guilt, for we are gloriously free in order to serve.