Could the gospel lead Gen Z to volunteering?

How one student’s faith changed a uni’s volunteering culture.

Organising a student-led charity day, dubbed the “Day of Good”, has profoundly shaped the faith of its director, Isaac Morris.

“It got me thinking about if my life is actually serving Christ and others,” said the 23-year-old computer science graduate from Melbourne University.

Talking to Eternity to mark International Volunteer Day on 5 December, Isaac said about 80 Melbourne University students gave their time to work at charities on the Day of Good, 14 April, a week after Good Friday.

“Because we don’t have to do anything, sometimes we just don’t.” – Isaac Morris

“It’s really changed my faith, to be honest. As the Western evangelical church, we know that we don’t have to do anything, which is good and is grace. And it’s awesome. It’s amazing, one might say. But because we don’t have to do anything, sometimes we just don’t. Organising the Day of Good made me stop and consider, ‘Am I actually serving God?’ My answer was ‘Yes, but am I also serving others in my everyday life? Am I actually taking time out of my days to help those in need? And what would that look like?’

“If I’m counting up the hours in my week, what do I spend them on? Do I regularly give my time to those who need it? Is that the kind of thing that I do informally? Is that a thing that I need to formally schedule in? What about my money? Do I actually set aside money, not necessarily for the church and not for myself, but do I set aside money for those in need? Am I actually prepared and planning for these things? And what about my choices of what I do with my life?”

Isaac Morris

In the lead-up to the university’s first student-led volunteering event, Isaac emailed about 100 charities to see if they would take a group of volunteers for the Day of Good on 14 April this year.

“A solid third never got back to me after a couple of emails. Some went, ‘We can’t take people for one day; it’s just not feasible.’ But enough went, ‘Sure, we’ll take a group,’” Isaac tells Eternity.

“We had nine student clubs involved and 80 charity options. Not all of them happened on the day, but those were the options that we were preparing. We had 134 volunteers sign up. Some dropped out for various reasons (they were busy or fell sick) and 28 never showed up without contacting us.”

The clincher was reading a Barna report which revealed that 72 per cent of those aged 18 to 30 had not volunteered a single hour of their time in the previous three years.

After spending the day working for various charities, the students returned to campus for pizza in the evening with universally positive feedback from Christians and non-Christians alike that it had been fun to do something good.

Volunteers at Vinnies.

Isaac said his motivation to set up the Day of Good came from three apparently random moments. The first was a discussion with friends in the Christian Union about what it would look like to live out the biblical mandate to do good. The second was an online university forum that raised the idea of a staff-led student volunteering day. The clincher was reading a Barna report, which revealed that 28 per cent of young Australians volunteered pre-COVID, which meant that 72 per cent had not volunteered a single hour of their time in the previous three years.

Shocked by this statistic, Isaac decided to get a volunteering day off the ground through the university clubs, starting with the two he was involved in and members of others he knew. He wanted to create a sustainable model that other Christian Unions and universities could imitate if they wanted to.

“The Christian Union student leaders were on board right at the start, and then a couple of other clubs got on board. Once I had a few, I could then go to the clubs I didn’t know and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea. These clubs are already on board. Do you want to be part of it? It’ll be the big new thing next year.’ A variety of clubs said yes. And so, we met up as representatives of all of those clubs to discuss how we could make it work and it became a very collaborative process.”

“The gospel is tied up in actually acting upon it.”

Isaac said he called the event Day of Good after reading Titus 3:8, which says that we have been saved to do good: “I want you to stress these things [the gospel] so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”

“I had a discussion with one CU staff member about this passage,” Isaac shares, “and he said, ‘But what is doing good?’ I was like, ‘Well, it gives you that answer five verses later. ‘Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.’

“It’s similar in my favourite verse of all time, Ephesians 2:8: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.’ And then it goes on to the very next verse, ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’

“You see it in James 5 as well. You see it all over the place [in the Bible]. The gospel is tied up in actually acting upon it. And so if you genuinely believe the gospel, if you genuinely believe what God has done for you, then you want to express that to others, not just in telling them, ‘Hey, this is great,’ but actually in changing how you spend your life, how you spend your time, your money, whatever for the sake of others.”

“There are people in Melbourne in need who we can serve and help. As a church, I think that we should.”

Having just finished his computer science degree, Isaac is now considering how the action part of his faith should shape what he does with his life.

“Many of my peers are going off and getting well-paying jobs … to make stocks trade 0.1 per cent quicker. I don’t want to do that with my life. And so since the Day of Good, I’ve taken a part-time job as a disability support worker because there are people in need – and not just starving children in Africa, those suffering in war-torn countries, those on the other side of the world. There are people in Melbourne in need who we can serve and help. As a church, I think that we should.

“So, one of my projects from the last semester has been encouraging my church to do volunteer things, encouraging the carols band to go to an aged-care home for Christmas or my Bible study to help at the Salvos for a day. And more long-term programs are in the works.”

Clean up at Port Melbourne

While he won’t be involved, planning for the 2024 Day of Good is already underway. “My last job as the director of the previous one was to get the next team together. I’m leaving it in good hands with the team that we’ve got. We left all the information they would need, and I’ve still got a copy of all that if another uni wants to try it, and get some tips, get some advice for putting people into groups.”

Anyone interested in getting tips from Isaac about running a student-led volunteer day can contact him at [email protected]