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Laity and clergy in partnership: a vital connection

October 31, 2017

By Rod Miller

See the first article in this series: We are called to be collaborators with God.

Last month, we focused on the invitation given to everyone to be collaborators with God. This month we explore the rich and vital collaboration of laity and clergy.

The first place I learned about lay and clergy partnerships was from my parents. Dad taught and served on many of the church committees including as Lay Leader. Mom sang in the choir and chaired the Evangelism Committee. Together, they led a lively Prayer and Praise Bible study in our home. I can remember discussions around the dinner table about the roles of clergy and laity. I observed that my father, an electrical engineer, and my mother, a typesetter, clearly understood that they were serving as ministers of our church. At the same time, I was aware that my father and our pastor did not always agree about the roles of laity and clergy.

The UM Book of Discipline clearly states that all baptized members are ministers of the church by virtue of their calling to share in “Christ’s royal priesthood.” Where do we go off track? Both clergy and laity can become overly controlling about their roles and responsibilities. Both laity and clergy can develop unhealthy assumptions about “that pastor” or “those lay people.” Clergy and laity can find themselves wrestling over who “runs the church.” Emotional issues can build, sometimes resulting in inaction, sometimes in a compromise and sometimes, fortunately, leading to real and needed discussions about what it means to serve together in the body of Christ. 

We can agree that no one wants a pastor or lay person to “take over” the church. Nor is it helpful to have clergy or laity going their own ways. As Ephesians 4 (the Message) says, “Run on the road God called you to travel… do this with humility and discipline… you were all called to travel on the same road, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly… but that doesn’t mean that you should all look and speak and act the same…no prolonged infancies among us, please… we take our lead from Christ who keeps us in step with each other…”

 The truth is we are one Body with many members.  No one person or group can or should do it all. Pastors are authorized to serve the church by engaging word, sacrament and order. Laity are called to discern and respond to God’s calling. At the same time, pastors fulfill their callings when laity are equipped to step into their callings. Laity and clergy are meant to travel the same road by serving as the church together. 

Here are some guidelines for living into lay/clergy partnerships:

  • Clergy and laity honor and respect one another’s callings.
  • Affirmations: I accept you. I value you. I believe there is potential in you to share. 
  • We don’t always have to agree with one another to trust each other and work together.
  • Answering God’s call means asking the question, “how can I help?”
  • Remain open to the workings of the Spirit.

Many lay persons serve in amazing ways which extend the ministry of the church far beyond what individual clergy can do. I know of lay persons who are ministering with people every week – reaching people for Christ whom clergy will probably never know. Many more are capable, yet they hold back for various reasons. Now is the time to step out – we need you. Laity can and should serve whenever and wherever God calls you and your call is affirmed by the Body. It is time to make it an ongoing goal to encourage, support and train lay persons to be the people God is calling them to be.

This is the second article in a series on Laity and Call. *Rod Miller is the interim pastor of Glen Mar UMC. He also works as a coach for clergy and other church leaders.

 

 

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