A Rotary club is a group of local businessmen and professionals who form part of Rotary International, a community service organization founded in Chicago in 1905. Members of a Rotary club are called Rotarians. The purpose of a local Rotary club is to connect people who then work together to solve community problems, provide humanitarian aid, and promote goodwill and peace. Rotary clubs exist all around the world, and Rotary International has over 1.2 million members. Their motto is “Service Above Self.”
Rotarians believe that “one profits most who serves best,” and they are committed to creating inroads with people so that opportunities to serve will arise from those connections. The Rotarian philosophy is that mutual service is the best way to create thriving businesses and societies. A Rotary club is also committed to ethical practices in business and holds high ideals for personal behavior. Rotary clubs ask four questions—the Four-way Test—to be applied to thoughts, speech, or actions: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” If the answer is yes to all four questions, the action, speech, or thought is considered ethical.
Rotary International is involved with several global projects, notably a drive to eradicate polio worldwide. Locally, a Rotary club may spearhead many more projects, including donating school supplies to the local public school, hosting foreign exchange students, or renovating a city park. Members of Rotary clubs are expected to attend club meetings every week, pay annual dues, and participate in activities and projects.
The Rotary club is a modern invention, and the Bible does not mention such civic-minded service groups. The Four-way Test for ethical business practices proposed by Rotarians is certainly in line with biblical principles. The Proverbs 31 wife is an ethical businesswoman who provides for her household and is kind to the poor and the less fortunate (Proverbs 31:20, 23–24).
The motto of “Service Above Self” recalls biblical principles such as the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) and Jesus’ lesson that “the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12). But the Rotarian motto itself and the statement “One profits most who serves best” are not found in the Bible.
Can a Christian be a Rotarian? There is nothing inherently sinful about belonging to a Rotary club, and there is obviously much good that can come from community service. A Christian considering joining a Rotary club should carefully weigh the amount of time and money required of Rotary against his or her commitment to the local church. Rotary should not be allowed to impinge upon one’s responsibilities to the body of Christ. Also, a Christian should research exactly what the required Rotary dues are used for. In the past, Rotary International has been criticized for its associations with Planned Parenthood and other population-control or pro-abortion groups.
An important difference between Christian service and Rotary service is the motivation. Christians perform good works in loving obedience to the Lord who saved them, knowing they were appointed to acts of service (Ephesians 2:10). Unbelievers may perform good works for any number of reasons, including “to be seen by others” (Matthew 23:5, ESV) or to be afforded more honor in some way. Pride is subtle, and it can make us feel that we have no need for God. Serving others is good, but if it creates pride in the heart, it is detrimental to one’s spiritual health (see Romans 4:1–8). Community service done in pride or self-love is ultimately worthless: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).