We're Not Hobbits

I watched Fellowship of the Ring before I ever began reading the books, and I remember being both bemused and amused by the hobbits’ aversion to adventure. They valued the easy life, the simple life, the life unfettered by the worries and stresses of the outside world with its dangers and adventures. There’s some of that—and sometimes a lot of that—in all of us, but deep down we want more, even if just a little more. We’re not hobbits.

We crave an adventure, an epic, a journey, and, yes, even a grueling task.

I’m in the midst of reading Leading Without Power by Max De Pree. It’s a primer on leading volunteers and volunteers leading volunteers. In most leadership situations we tend to rely heavily on the exertion of power, and that exertion of power often relies heavily on money. Salaries, bonuses, windfalls and bribes are often the dangling carrots of the workplace, but when it comes to non-profits and churches and their volunteers, well, there just isn’t the money. Thus, the paradigm of leadership must shift significantly.

So what do non-profits and churches have going for them? What is it that draws volunteers to them? They have causes. They have beliefs. They have obstacles. They have opportunities.

They have adventure.

De Pree makes the argument that most people volunteer because they’re seeking a sense of fulfillment, engagement and development that they’re not getting elsewhere. They want to be a part of something and believe in something bigger than themselves. They want to engage parts of themselves that lie dormant in their other spheres of life. They want to be developed and challenged with new obstacles and ideals.

But often we do a very poor job of inviting people into this kind of adventure. Most of the time, and I’m certainly guilty of this, we apologize for asking for help as we ask for help. Instead, according to De Pree, we should be throwing down a gauntlet:

One of the easiest mistakes is to tell people that you have a job for them, that you need them to do it, but that the job is not very hard and not much preparation is needed to be successful. This is clearly not the way to offer work. We should offer challenging work. We should offer work that’s difficult. We should offer work that’s risky, because through risky work we grow. We should offer work that’s meaningful. We should offer work that matches the gifts of the person. Easy work is as rewarding as steering a parked car. 

If I can return to my geek-tastic Lord of the Rings analogy for a moment: Hobbiton is a nice place to visit, but no one wants to be a hobbit. We want to be a part of the Fellowship. The members of the Fellowship weren’t only committed to the call because they believed in it; they were also committed because they knew what it would require. They knew that they had a unique role to play. They knew they were culpable for the success or failure of the endeavor.

When we call volunteers into our endeavors are we calling them to be moved and changed and fulfilled? Are we calling them into a process of learning and exploring? Are we calling them to encounter obstacles and devise ingenious ways to circumvent them? Are we calling them into a journey?

Are we really asking them to join us on an adventure?