volunteers for the sky castle
Reading Time: 6 minutes (Brian McGowan.) In their dreams, they are free indeed.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Oh, this one was too good — too absolutely hilarious — not to share. Scot McKnight, a Christian writer who’s clearly high on his own promotional fumes, has decided that y’all, he just doesn’t work with volunteers. No, not him! He’s too good for help from the likes of them. Today, Lord Snow Presides over a guy who clearly does not understand that his religion is in such a deep decline that stuff like rejecting volunteers is not even halfway up to him anymore.

volunteers for the sky castle
(Brian McGowan.) In their dreams, they are free indeed.

I Just Loved This

The story comes to us from Christianity Today a few days ago, from prolific writer Scot McKnight. He titled it, “I Don’t Work With Volunteers.”

Oh, he doesn’t, does he. Oooh, la la!

After lamenting how Covid-19 has invaded his apparent home state of Tennessee, “The Volunteer State,” he discusses the various awful effects the Fundie Flu has had on church volunteer rolls. Then, he opines:

But you can’t cancel everything. There are some things that should be done and indeed, must be done if the church is to be the church at all. You can’t hire enough people to do everything that needs to be done. The church has always run on the efforts of volunteers.

I would challenge that assumption.


And why, one asks?

Hang onto your hat. This one’s good. I mean, evangelicals are always great for a laugh on Lord Snow Presides days. But this one’s found a way to completely lap his tribe’s general level of awfulness.

A Worldview Based on Owning People

Scot McKnight reveals why he doesn’t like having volunteers around:

Being a volunteer means you determine your level of involvement, where and when you will show up and what you will do when you get there. In short, being a volunteer is up to us.

I’d rather work with people who are called.

Ah, of course. Because volunteers have way too much of a sense of self-determination, empowerment, and, well, voluntary involvement.

Instead, King Scot needs workers who think that a god personally ordered them to be there.

For ever-loving FS. Everything comes down to evangelicals’ utter, unalloyed, unending hatred of consent, doesn’t it?

And Why Are Mere Volunteers Just Not Good Enough, Now?

But don’t worry. Scot McKnight is happy to tell us exactly why he cannot allow volunteers to sully his groups. He writes:

Being called means you’ve been summoned and assigned a mission. This is an important message most of us miss. When we talk about salvation, too many of us just tell the first half of the story. We talk about how we were saved from our sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That’s true — wonderfully and gloriously true [citation needed], but it’s only half of the story. As followers of Christ, we are SAVED FROM OUR SINS and SAVED FOR SERVICE. Being born again is just the beginning of our adventure in faith. After that, we have to grow again into the disciple who can be used effectively for His Kingdom purposes.

This whole idea is so ridiculous.

We talked about it just a bit ago. Actually, we kinda talk about it a lot.

Why It’s Ridiculous

Christians never sell their product, which is active membership in their groups, on the basis of how their marks will serve the group.

Rather, they always sell their sole product as a way to meet their recruits’ own immediate and future needs. Serving the group doesn’t even come up in these sales pitches. As a result, new recruits do not ever, ever, sign up with the impression that they are about to march into a lifetime of endless volunteer service.

So this guy thinks that anybody who is truly saved from Hell, who is really a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, will naturally gravitate toward that kind of servitude to their group. But that’s not the reality of church groups, and literally any working pastor could have told Scot McKnight that before he opened his piehole to pontificate about stuff he very clearly does not understand about his own tribe.

Ya know, this guy sure writes a lot about Christian groups.

Hm. I wonder how much of his other work is similarly bees-headed and totally out of touch with reality?

Grabbing Air in His Sky Castle

When I talk about Scot McKnight’s own authoritarian impulses, please bear in mind that he is not actually the leader of a church. As far as I can tell, he has never actually held a pastoral position.

At most, someone let him be a deacon. He might not even be actively serving any churches in that capacity. His official biography on Christianity Today does not even list a gig as a Sunday School teacher, only saying he’s “active” at his church. In Christian parlance, that gauzy word could mean he volunteers — er, sorry, labors as a serf for a pastor because his god ordered it — or that he simply attends fairly regularly.

That’s why this guy’s snooty post makes me laugh so hard. Oh, la dee dah, this one doesn’t want mere volunteers. Oh no, he does not! Ugh, the inhumanity! Might as well ask him to use a chamberpot that is not made of solid gold! No no, this one only accepts divinely called workers. He will allow absolutely nothing less in any group he commands, which is to say no groups because he’s just building sky castles.

Meanwhile, churches are freakin’ hemorrhaging members, which has destroyed their volunteer rolls. And even before Fundie Flu came along, evangelical churches were disintegrating at the seams and closing by the hundreds or thousands a year.

They’re in a bad spot, and Scot McKnight ain’t making their lives easier by suggesting they reject anybody willing to do anything at all for their churches.

(Also, I really can’t stand Christians who insist, as McKnight does, that they’re “orthodox.” Calvinists do this all the time. To me, the label “orthodox” means something very specific. I know why they grab for that description, but it’s not okay.)

Authoritarians Gonna Authoritarian.

Reading this guy’s post, I just can’t help but think that he’s making a demand for volunteers who are more willing to obey their Dear Leaders’ every single command and whim.

I mean, he makes his utter disdain of empowered, self-willed workers crystal-clear. He very clearly communicates his disgust for people who think they run their own lives and can decide on their own how and when and in what way they will donate time and labor to their churches.

He declares very loftily that when someone asks what “we need done in the church,” because I’m sure people ask the deacons this question all the time, he has this standard response:

When people ask me about what we need done in the church, I usually turn the question back to them. What are you called to do? Most people can’t answer this question. That leads to a long discussion about passions, dreams, gifting and talents. That gets them closer to understanding their calling — the divine purpose for which they were created.

Oh yes, y’all, I’m completely totally sure that the people asking an honest question of a church leader (ahem) aren’t even a little annoyed at having their question “turn[ed] back to them.” Nope! Not at all.

(Pro-Tip to King Scot: Remember the part where these people asked you what the church needed? When someone refuses to answer a simple question clearly, that says a lot of bad things to any reasonable people asking the question.)

Of course, the simple reality of churches is that they need a lot of labor. And it’s vanishingly rare to find a Christian pepperpot who feels divinely called to make sure its bathrooms are spick and span. Weird, isn’t it?

The Reality of Pastors’ Situation

While we’re at it, here’s the reality of today’s Christianity in general:

Even with their unearned, unwarranted, dishonestly-attained tax perks, even with all Americans personally subsidizing their self-congratulatory Jesus-themed clubhouses whether they derive any benefit from them or not, churches are rapidly losing any ability to maintain enough paid staff members to do the stuff that all churches need done.

That means they increasingly rely on volunteer service.

In the past, women performed almost all of this service. But now they’re leaving churches in increasing numbers. That means the volunteer rolls shrink more every year.

The ephemeral rewards of church volunteer work seem to play less and less of a role in people’s decision-making processes than ever before. Scot McKnight can talk up those rewards as much as he likes, and oh, he sure does make us uncomfortably aware of just how much church volunteer work benefits the volunteers themselves:

It happens all of the time. One of our deacons will tell me of a recent hospital visit and say, “As tough as that moment was, I’ve never felt so alive.” A student mentor will tell me about the hours they have spent counseling, encouraging and yes, confronting a struggling teen-ager and then tell me they would trade these moments for anything in the world [sic]. In these moments, my friends understand why they were born.

Of course, none of this “understanding” really matters in the end.

The Bad Investment

People have increasing numbers of real-life things to deal with now. Churches simply do not represent a good value for the time and resources they demand of their members (and, increasingly, everyone else too).

Their Dear Leaders’ increasing disconnect from that reality certainly provides a lot of laughs for the rest of us, at least, but it sure ain’t gonna help any pastors who take Scot McKnight or his drivel seriously.

He speaks not to their reality, but to their sky castle mentality. He reflects not the truth, but the fantasy-land that pastors wish with all their hearts was the truth.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over a hilariously snooty evangelical who thinks becoming the choosiest beggar ever will totally help today’s evangelical church leaders in their increasingly strapped and struggling churches.

In their dreams, they are free indeed.

About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)

Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was a very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...