Comic-Con International is the annual gathering of all things pop culture held in San Diego.
The convention has panels and gatherings on almost anything to do with comics, movies, television and video games.
Despite all of these opportunities, I signed up to volunteer this year.
First, I wanted to see how Comic-Con is run from inside. The estimated attendance exceeds 100,000. I thought it would be interesting to see how something that big gets done on a daily basis.
Second, I wanted to give back after five years attending the convention. It is a big part of my DNA to give back to something that has given so much to me.
Becoming a volunteer is difficult because if you agree to help out for three hours a day you can attend free (and receive a nifty T-shirt).
Because I write movie reviews on EthicsDaily.com, I am considered a member of the press and able to obtain a convention ticket each year.
So, while I did not have to volunteer to get in, I wanted to help out; I did but not in ways I would ever imagine.
When you present your volunteer credentials, they ask what time you want to work.
“What have you got?” I replied.
That day they needed help with “line management” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
With all those people coming to Comic-Con, one of the necessary evils is long lines for everything. I was assigned to stand outside by the marina with a sign reading “Lego Exclusive Line.”
The Lego Corp. was giving away an exclusive Deadpool action figure that could only be obtained that day.
The line was stretched for as far as the eye could see. I was responsible for not letting anyone cut into it and trying to give information to people who had questions.
While I was there, I met a father and son from Buffalo, New York, who had been in line since 8 a.m. for the 12:30 p.m. giveaway.
As we talked about the convention and pop culture, I was pulled to do a new job: standing in line for a person who was disabled that could not stand for themselves.
I moved up about 500 people ahead of the father and son and slowly moved up to the place where the exclusives were given away. You then placed your hand on an iPad screen and if it said you won, you got the figure.
I was about 20 people away when it was announced that they had only 10 left. Before I reached the iPad, they were all gone.
I felt bad for the person I stood in line for, but even more for the father and son that stood outside and never got close enough to see what everyone was standing in for.
It was a parable about going to Comic-Con.
There is always a measure of disappointment in coming and standing in a line. You’re never sure if you’ll get into an event; it is a risk that is part of the bargain of coming.
When you set your sights upon something, there has to be the reality check that you may not get what it is you are hoping for.
Two of the other days, I worked in the area of helping the disabled. Comic-Con not only makes it easier for the disabled to get around the show, but also encourages disabled persons to serve as volunteers.
On my second day, my job was working with those who volunteered. They came to a special booth within the convention center, and I helped them to their places of work for their three hours.
The last day, I manned a velvet rope to allow disabled persons to get into Hall H where the most prominent panels were held.
If you were disabled, you did not have to go stand in line outside, as the others did. There was a special line inside the convention hall, which took you straight into the hall.
Reflecting on my overall volunteering experience, I saw something of what we do in the church that can be problematic.
When I went to volunteer, the only question I was asked was, “When do you want to work?”
They were more concerned with getting a warm body in place than discovering what that warm body may be capable of doing.
The church generally does the same thing. Some churches do make use of processes to discern the gifts of the person who comes, but most churches do not.
Instead, we have a new person and we place that new person in a job we need filled.
For example, they might be asked to help with the children’s department, even if they do not have children or the gift to teach. As a result, they quickly burn out and stop being a part of the volunteering ministry of the church.
If I had held a sign all four days, I would not have wanted to volunteer again. But because I started to tell them that I did not want to be subjected to more of that California sun, I got placed in a different job.
Comic-Con is much like what the church does. They have a mission: To create awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms.
This requires help from those who want to buy into this mission – people that believe in Comic-Con’s reason for being and want the mission to succeed. Their volunteer program acts as an arm toward that end.
Similarly, the church has a mission that requires the work of volunteers.
They each have a spiritual gift that is to be used in the ministry of the church and that aids them in the work that needs to be done.
When we do not take the time to discern what it is that each person brings to the church, we create frustration and a lack of desire to help the church reach its stated mission.
I must confess my congregation is one of these churches. We tend to put people in places of service based on whims and needs rather than on giftedness.
My volunteer experience at Comic-Con spoke to me about the need of being more intentional in the placement of those who come to help us meet our stated mission.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.