What’s a Layperson to do?

Has mainline protestant culture confused the ministry of the laity with parish management, to the detriment of both?

It seems that many main line congregations succeed in involving a large number of people in a committee structure that oversees and directs many of the mechanics of parish ministry.  However, it also seems that many congregations fail to involve a similar number of people in daily or weekly Christian disciplines of prayer, Bible study, serving the poor, tithing, or Christian fellowship.

Read that paragraph again.

Or, put another way, is it possible that too many congregations place a priority on institutional issues rather than intentionally equipping Christians for a life of faith?

I surely don’t have the answers to these questions, and I know that I am setting up a false opposition between lay involvement/oversight of a local parish on one side and personal piety and Christian practice on the other side.  But I note that Evangelical churches of any size are more likely to enlist a newcomer to join a Bible study than a committee.  In fact, an Evangelical congregation is likely not to allow the newcomer to join a leadership committee until after a period of active participation in Bible study, fellowship, and prayer.

So what’s a layperson to do?  What’s a congregation to do with/for/by the layperson?

I ask these questions as an observer of congregational life, as an intern
preparing for ordained ministry, and also as the husband/editor of a
PhD student studying how congregations welcome newcomers (too many new
member classes include an invitation to join a committee!).  I also ask
these questions as someone who has done very little reading on congregational
dynamics, structure, or leadership . . . so what the heck do I know?

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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5 Responses to What’s a Layperson to do?

  1. PS says:

    Excellent observation. It is like the father who talks to the son about everything, guns, hunting, mortgages, lawn care, but doesn’t get down to the birds and bees, or more precisely, treating a woman with respect.
    In my Lutheran background, the pastors were, perhaps, the least likely to bring up spiritual issues in a conversation. Not exaggerating. Once my husband actually said something like, “I’ve never had a pastor ever ask me how my faith is or how my spiritual life is going. That would be like a doctor not asking a patient about his health.”
    Quite frankly, I’ve always learned more about this stuff from lay led Bible studies, esp. mixed background denominationally. I wrote an essay on this for the Christian Reconciliation Carnival a few weeks ago.
    Back to your point about “jobs” in the church: we once had a “goal” about getting in new people and giving them a job. Although I don’t think that the leaders meant it, to me it came across as get the new people in because we have these jobs that need to get done. Another parallel is when a new business man joins the Chamber of Commerce and immediately the old, tired members give the new person the leadership position.
    It think we need to step back and see how we come across.
    Or another way to look at it: If we have a spiritual program and some people come to Christ, how would we (ie members of a specific church) feel if those people decided to join the church down the street? We “should” be rejoicing over the lost sheep being found by the Shepard.
    OTOH, I know that I talk a good game here…action is another thing.

  2. You’ve written a profound post, Chris, and I thank you for it.

  3. LP says:

    I think you are dead on in the diagnosis. We have been wrestling with this trend ourselves.
    As much as I hate to admit it, it seems that a lot of the community churches that we mainliners like to stare down our nose at are doing a far better job getting people connected to Bible studies and discipleship groups. I think they have something to teach us. I am not syaing we should uncritically import their practices or their theology, but they are clearly doing something right.

  4. PS says:

    Ha, yes. You need to feed the horses before you put them in the harness.
    I wonder what a survey would show. Do the community churches attract/keep people because of what they provide, ie spiritual food or because of the entertainment factor or perhaps the social factor? What happens if you only provide one of these things at one time? Social experiment, anyone?

  5. Diane says:

    I do think we confuse “managing the church” with “the priesthood of all believers”, to our detriment. The lack of spiritual disciplines, prayer, Bible study, etc. is a part of that.

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