(Adapted from the Introduction of IMPACT: Reclaiming the Call of Lay Ministry)
The fourth chapter of Ephesians helps us understand the call to ministry of the laity. ALL (not only clergy) are called into ministry and ALL are gifted for ministry. A key element of the Protestant Reformation was the affirmation of the priesthood of all believers. Five hundred years after Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door and affirmed the priesthood of all believers, we are still coming to terms with the consequences of the Reformation’s affirmation that laity are indeed called into ministry. The book, IMPACT! Reclaiming the Call of Lay Ministry, with co-author Blake Bradford explores the ways in which laity have given away their ministry or maybe even in some cases have found their ministry stripped away. You will also find ideas and resources for how to reclaim lay ministry and be empowered to renew the laity movement.
The historical drift towards the professionalization of congregational leadership has created an enormous challenge for us laity. We have left behind our Founder’s roots as a movement of laity and instead become a pastor-centered and pastor-dependent movement. After master’s degrees were required for ordained clergy in the 1950’s, the drift began in earnest. Next, larger and larger churches have been required to afford the professional clergy due to the costs associated with their compensation package. Then came the movement to describe senior pastors as CEO’s of the churches they are serving. With each successive drift, it widened the gap between the leadership development of laity and clergy. Each step depowered laity more and more. Clergy became the “experts,” relying on laity more for technical expertise (such as finances or building programs) and less on strategic matters. Today, there is a great divide between the leadership formation of clergy and laity. I have experienced a pervasive apathy of congregations and laity leadership as I have consulted and coached throughout the country. I believe this apathy is at least partly to blame on the professionalism of clergy.
Our young leaders today are looking to engage as a leader in a very different method from leaders of the past. Our younger leaders desire authenticity and transparency. If we are to connect and engage with young leaders, we will have to shift our practices of church leadership. A millennial leader shared that young adult leaders have a very sensitive BS meter. They also value “R & R” – being raw and real. How are we opening up spaces and leading differently in order for young leaders to have a desire to lead?
This is actually not a new problem. In Acts chapter 6 we read about the first church argument. In this case, the conflict was rooted in a complex matrix of people and priorities: the chosen leaders (the apostles), the relational ministry and mission of the church (the Greek-speaking widows), congregational resource allocation (the apostles time and the distribution of food), and the larger congregation of Christ-followers (the whole community of disciples). The critical question 2000 years ago was: Would the apostles continue to manage the food distribution, therefore holding back the greater mission of the church? Or would they share ministry with the larger faith community of disciples, expanding the potential impact of the fledgling church? How the apostles and the church creatively approached this problem shows their dedication to the mission that Christ gave them. The apostles were self-aware enough to focus on their role of nurturing the grace-filled Word of God. Meanwhile the larger faith community selected laity from among their ranks to lead the missional ministry of the church. The disciples selected seven leaders and the apostles prayed and laid hands on these lay leaders. The next verse shares what happens when clergy stop hoarding ministry and start empowering laity: “The Word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
How is your congregation empowering, reclaiming, and encouraging the call of lay ministry? How might your church be more intentional in doing so? For resources and equipping, check out the on demand webinar and the small group resource for IMPACT: Reclaiming the Call to Lay Ministry.