Published by Rachel Noel on 15th September 2016

Building up the Body, by Richard Steel. Reviewed by Mike Butterworth

Building up the Body, by Richard Steel.

BRF, 2013, 174pp, ISBN 978-0- 85746-175-9, £7.99.

Purchase here

Reviewed by Mike Butterworth

building-up-the-bodyThe Introduction briefly and usefully alerts readers to the different spheres in which volunteers operate, their varied motivations and the need to treat them well.

Why people volunteer: and what it offers them in return. The opening chapter gives some statistics, some examples, and what’s different about today’s volunteers. The last point is taken up in Ch. 2, which gives a general description of the characteristics of people born in different periods (from the 1920s; 1945; early 1960s; mid 1980s). This is necessarily brief and simplified but could be useful in providing ideas to test against one’s experience of certain age groups.

Then comes a more theological section: Building up the Body of Christ. This is, in a way, the heart of the book as is reflected in the book’s title. There follows a brief, pertinent section on what the Bible says about volunteering. Those who have studied theology in any depth will be familiar with this material, but it will serve as a reminder, and it remains focused on the practical application of the biblical teaching for today. The book then moves on to a series of more ‘how to’ chapters.

Wider ways of volunteering offers a handy list and ideas for involving more people; Recruiting is a practical chapter with suggestions for getting the right number of the right kind of volunteers; Teams, training, trust – and taking risks faces up to some of the challenges of working in a team and developing those skills which are necessary – but missing. It sketches in some basic information about different personality types and group dynamics and refers to other works for more detail. My experience suggests that these matters are much more important than is usually realized: living out Christian humility, forbearance, forgiveness and co-operation (especially with those from whom we differ) provides a vitally important witness. Neglect can lead to disaster. This point is underlined in Ch. 7: A [very pertinent] word to leaders. The emphasis is on modelling: essentially modelling selfless service (cf. Mark 10:42-45).

Further chapters deal with The professional problem, Practicalities (including legal or quasi-legal issues such as safeguarding and expenses), and Saying ‘thank you’ (I can’t estimate the number of times I have heard people express their pleasure at being appreciated or sorrow at not being). Problems, conflict and ending well starts with a brief and appropriate exposition of Matthew 18:15-17 as a basis for settling disputes and personal clashes, with application to people like Private Fraser and Harry Potter’s Dementors.

At the end of the book there is an invitation to continue the conversation by visiting the blog At the time of writing there is very little there, but it seems like a Good Idea that I hope will take off. Two appendices give web resources and sample policies.

The book is not and could not be a handbook or training manual. It does bring to the reader some vitally important material and should be extremely useful to those who want to develop a shared church ministry and are keen to reflect on and apply its ideas. I warmly commend it.

Mike Butterworth has spent many years in ministerial training in India and Britain. His specialist area is Old Testament. He has always been involved in pastoral ministry and is now, after retiring, an associate member of a Ministry Team in Bucks.

This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 25 in December 2013.

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