“Now there are varieties of gifts, but he same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of the in everyone.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
In our congregations this Sunday we celebrate the Ministry of Laity. It is a time to lift up the ministry that everyone shares by using the many gifts they have been given. The apostle Paul uses imagery of the body and how we are all connected, and he reminds us that we are all one in Christ and called to use our gifts and talents to further the work of the church together. We do this to the glory of God and to build up the family of God here on earth.
All of us who are clergy once were laity, too. That’s how we started in ministry, and most of us really struggled with our call to become ministers to the ministers. It’s not an easy path, and it can be a very lonely place to be. Ethically, we really can’t become friends with our parishioners – not close friends, anyway. We can socialize, but we aren’t supposed to play favorites. We put ourselves in jeopardy when we share our personal frustrations and irritations with parishioners whom we fell we can trust, but if something happens for them to be mad at us, that information can be used against us. No matter where go, we are visible to our parishioners, and they always have that word “pastor” in the back of their heads when they are with us.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my congregations, and I think they are wonderful people. But I also know that I will be with them a much shorter time than they will be with each other. The laity have a unique opportunity to share their gifts in community and to build on those gifts. They are the “movers and shakers” in the church – or at least about 10 percent of them are.
I don’t remember when the church researchers say that momentum shifted from a partnership in ministry with pastor and congregation to “let the pastor do it.” That attitude is, fortunately, beginning to turn around as the laity realize that they have a calling and are the ones who are still there when a pastor leaves. Many are beginning to claim their gifts and use them to further the work of Christ in the church and, even more importantly, in the world.
The passage from 1 Corinthians above has been one that I have read many, many times, but I was struck this week when I was reading it again that the word variety is used three times referring to three different ways of answering God’s call: gifts, service, and activities. That just about covers everything! We share our talents, offer whatever gifts we can, serve in whatever way we feel we can best serve, and in a wide range of active ways.
Service isn’t confined to the church only, and that is sometimes hard to remember when the Nominating Committee is on the search for people to serve on committees or as officers in the church. Even though we need people to do the work that keeps a church going, the most important mission field is “out there” where we work, play, shop, live, and interact with the world around us.
Coming to church on Sundays or being active in the church is part of a type of training ground where we learn about Christ and hear God’s call in our lives. It’s where we grow in faith and connect with other disciples who are growing. Church is where we practice so we can be sent forth. That include the clergy, but they are, frankly, in the minority.
So, clergy, let us lift up the laity of our churches! And let us celebrate who they are, Whose they are, and the gifts they have, even as we help to lead, inspire, instruct, and nurture them. Oh yes, and call them – and us – to accountability as we strive to serve faithfully with each other to the glory of God.