I hasten to say, the distinction does not have to do with what a person is called. Many volunteers are indeed ministers. And perhaps only God can make the distinction accurately.
Nor is one bad and one good. Volunteerism and ministry are both good. They are just different. Just as there is a difference between charitable giving and financial stewardship. Both good—but not the same.
Volunteering is often motivated by the desire to do good. It can be undertaken in order to make good use of one’s time or to make a difference in one’s community or to counteract loneliness. Sometimes people volunteer to make themselves more employable. And all of it is to the good.
Ministering may be undertaking the very same tasks, even for some of the same reasons, except for those ministering, God is definitely in the equation. Ministering is part of our stewardship of time and talent. It is an offering to God in thanksgiving for all our many blessings, even to the essential gift of Ruach, God’s breath of life and Spirit, by which we live. And it is a way we, as Christians, walk the way of Jesus in our day to day lives.
If you think that ministry is the provenance only of the ordained, you are wrong. Ministry is the provenance of all the people of God, and especially of the laity in the world. Ordained ministry is to serve the people of God within the structure of the church to nourish, bless, encourage and enable the ministry of the laity whose charge is no less than tikkun ha olam, the healing of the world in Christ’s name, in big matters and in small, day by day. That’s the journey we take together following Christ as Lord and Savior.
May Christ bless us as companions on the way! Alleluia!