I grew up in the era of the petrol roster system. Each weekend, until May 1995, petrol stations would shut at midday Saturday. If you were after fuel before the following Monday morning, a wild goose chase was afoot.
If fuel was low, you were at the mercy of the roster system. Small corflute A-frame signs are still called ‘roster signs’ in reverent memory. They were a lifeline and hope-giver for the empty-tanker.
Pre-dating the internet or 24-hour fuel stations, the standard procedure, if the needle was down and to the left, was to find your nearest fuel station, shine your headlights in the shopfront window, and squint at the large, complex tabloid sheet that listed every ‘rostered’ service station across the metropolitan area.
Cooperative proprietors saved you some squinting by highlighting the nearest rostered alternative, or by hanging a little blackboard in the front window. Often, though, you’d be scanning away with your index finger until you fixed on the nearest purveyor of fine gasoline who’d be burning the midnight oil. Ok, burning the oil to the ungodly hour of 9 pm.
For the service station proprietor, the roster system was part-profit making opportunity and part public service. With the majority of the service station network closed from Saturday midday, they were in for a big weekend. They were also in for extra wages, extra stocking of shelves, and for ensuring their underground tanks were as full as could be.
To get a little altruistic, the man at the bowser carried the drivers’ fuel burden for the weekend. For the rest of the week, every fuel station across the metro area would take on the collective petroleum needs of the public. The weekend, though? Near solo work.
When the roster system was dismantled in the mid-nineties, it was suddenly every man for himself. Open-slathered anarchy. Everyone could work all hours all the time. Many service stations went out of business with deregulation, and a few became very profitable.
I’ve grown up with rosters for fuel and rosters for serving.
For as long as I can remember, they’ve been a part my church life.
I’d eagerly scan the roster when I was a teenager to see when or whether I’d be leading worship at church. I wanted to serve. I considered it a privilege and hoped I’d have plenty of opportunities.
Rosters dignify the individual but also regard a task as worthy of intent.
A roster says: ‘this job matters so much that we need reliable, gifted help’. Ok, not always gifted, but reliable.
If it doesn’t happen without a roster, it quickly becomes obvious that the job mightn’t be regarded or required.
Rosters can elicit some strange responses.
“They didn’t put me on this day, that must mean ‘x'”, or “They didn’t roster me on with those people, that must mean ‘y'”.
I once found myself getting introspective over a roster of my own creation. Yeah, dumb.
The church of which I’m part has some rosters. Rosters for preaching, for worship leading and music, for making coffee, leading our children, for our Dining Tables, for our writing.
Rosters help make stuff happen. Whether it’s fuel or service of any kind, they say that serving is something we’re planning on doing.
They don’t merely serve to solve a logistical problem; they dignify the gifting of others and their willingness to serve with intentional action.
While they may seem tedious, rosters are also facilitators of the organic. Dry and administrative at the point of creation, they are conduits for the sweetness of community. Without them, there’s often a lot of head-scratching or back-breaking going on.
When the right leg refuses to walk, we limp along. The same is true for serving one another. A roster says: ‘collectively, we help and serve one another’.
Rosters ensure that one person is not doing the work of ten again and again. Sure, they decrease the level of uncertainty in a group, but they do something more significant still.
They activate and call out the gifting of others within your community, and they encourage you to examine the repository of gifts within your group. It begs you to consider “how am I going to channel these gifts and a willingness to serve so that all of us can be grown, blessed, and see God glorified in and around us?”.
Rosters share a load, so everyone gets to play. Both the busy ones, who need a bit of a run-up to make things happen, and the spontaneous ones, who are always ready to roll.
Our church stewards its giving in a way that isn’t particularly common. We use 50% of financial giving to support the church within, while the other 50% supports ministries, partnerships, and causes beyond our church. Creatively, we call this “50/50 Giving”. Genius!
It got me thinking, what if our rostering reflected a similar dynamic? What if, right alongside playing guitar on Sunday morning, was an intentional and mission-driven imperative to serve your neighbour (or something)? How would that resonate within and beyond the body?
If we are (and we should be) all about being salt, light, and kingdom-revealers in the places in which we camp every day, shouldn’t we bring a similar level of intent to the ‘beyond’ as we do to the ‘within’?
Of course, this thought is a little flawed. It assumes if we’re not ‘rostered on’, we’re ‘rostered off’, which is never the case when it comes to loving, restoring, and bringing life.
All the same, what might it look like to bring the fruit of our rostering within to a context beyond ourselves, and see intentionality blossom in those places in ways that move towards the organic?
I’d love to explore how that looks.