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The Celebration of Laity

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

This week we are celebrating the  ministry of the laity in our churches.  The laity lead the entire worship service, and the focus is on their call to ministry, not just as people who are able to lead worship, but as those who are given gifts to share as the church in the world.

Every so often when I approach someone to lead the service, I have these terrified “deer in the headlights” looks and a lot of hesitation.  However, over the last two years, the people who have been asked have readily answered, “Sure!”

This year, in one of the churches I serve, a woman who is a good writer of skits and plays, and who was a lay speaker in her previous church, told me she had a sermon in her that she wanted to share.  I offered Laity Sunday, and she immediately said “yes” and recruited several other parishioners to help in leading the service.

In the other church, we have this amazing, terrific, and marvelous youth group who also make up the Senior Sunday school class.  I found a skit that I thought they might like, wrote up a bulletin to fit it, and asked the teacher to approach them.  Without hesitation, they said “yes” and immediately began to edit the script to fit their style and understanding.  Woo hoo!

Having been a lay person for many years before I began serving churches as a pastor, I can appreciate the work that so many of them do in sharing God’s love to the world.  I celebrate their ministry as “the priesthood of all believers.”  They take their calling seriously.  Think of the many gifts that lay people share!

Here is a list of only SOME of the gifts they share:  leading worship, preaching, teaching Sunday school, serving on Finance and Trustees, serving on the Staff Parish Relations Committee, serving on the Mission Committee and Worship Committee (and many others), setting up altar decorations, baking and cooking, running fund raisers, volunteering in the church office or around the grounds, organizing women’s and men’s groups, leading Bible studies, witnessing to their faith in the workplace, at home, at school, in the marketplace, or wherever they are, and this certainly doesn’t cover all of what they do.

The Laity are in partnership with the clergy to share the love of God in the world, in their communities, and with their families and friends.  It’s a calling that we all have together as we ARE the church in the world.  I often tell the congregations that they go out the door of the church through the servants entrance into their mission field.  Worship is where we regroup, re-energize, and find support and nurture that helps us to do what we are called to do for Christ.

Let us celebrated the laity!

 

The Laity

“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.

Everyone is in Ministry

We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.  In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.”  Romans 12:4-5

Some folks think that they don’t have any responsibility for helping the church to grow.  They come on Sunday morning and go through the worship service and then they think they are done.  Others want to do something but feel they don’t have the gifts to make a difference.  Still others throw themselves wholeheartedly into a task or committee or some activity in the church, and eventually they burn out.  Some people leave because they get mad at the pastor or another church member.

Paul reminds the congregation in Rome that they are all part of the Body of Christ, and each one has something to offer in continuing the work of Christ in the world.  The Church really isn’t the building, but the people, and the people don’t stay in the building, they are sent forth to be in ministry to the world.  And yet, the work of the church also needs organization and administration in order to help that happen.  EVERYONE has something to offer.

In one of my churches, an older woman couldn’t do much, but she wrote out cards and called people who were ill, shut in, grieving, or had something challenging going on in their lives.  Another woman who was pretty much confined to a wheelchair prayed regularly over the list of people on the church’s prayer list, in the church’s directory, and for the pastor and staff.

I know people who would never come up to the front of the sanctuary to help lead a service, but they work hard to put out fellowship refreshments, help keep the building in good condition and looking nice, manage the financial parts of the church’s work, find ways to stay in touch with those who haven’t been attending, teach Sunday school or an adult Bible Study class, take the offering during worship, sweep the kitchen floor, bake, bring food to a pot luck supper, attend the men’s or women’s groups, or any number of things that need to work to help the church be in vital and faithful ministry.

That is the ministry of the Laity.  In fact, the lay people in a church are partners in ministry with the pastor.  Together they work to offer Christ to the world and keep the church a place where we can continue to support each other, grow in faith, and learn what it means to live in our often hurting and broken world.  The Laity are the ones who remain after the pastor leaves, so it is important for people coming to a church to make connections and get to know the other folks in the church.

As in any church, there will be people who don’t always get along, but what a great opportunity to set an example by showing kindness and respect to another person even if we don’t particularly like them!  This Sunday, I celebrate the ministry of the laity as they continue to BE the church in the world.  Thanks be to God!

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