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Church Leadership

The Purpose of the Lay Person

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
First of all, Christianity is not a ranch where we hire hands to work the spread. Rather, Christianity is an action-driven adventure of faith, where we each help to build one another up and cooperatively do the work that Christ gives us.

Acts 2:42-45; Romans 12:1-3; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 3:13; 1 Timothy 3:14-15; 2 Timothy 2:2

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. Acts 2:42-45

President John F. Kennedy gave a speech early in his presidency that went something like this: "Ask not what your county can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." This greatly applies to the church, because throughout church history, we have had a skewed idea of the role of the lay person. This is especially true in the liturgical churches. There is the mindset that we have a hired a priest, pastor, or minister to do this or that, so we do not have to. The typical "pew-sitter" sees their role as a spectator, so that actively engaging in the church is not deemed necessary. All that is needed is to throw a few bucks in the plate. After all, someone else has been hired to do the ministry. I experienced this many times over the years in Youth Ministry. When I would try to recruit youth leaders, I would sometimes get the response, "I thought we paid you to do that." Their thinking was I do not need to do what I pay you to do.

First of all, Christianity is not a ranch where we hire hands to work the spread. Rather, Christianity is an action-driven adventure of faith, where we each help to build one another up and cooperatively do the work that Christ gives us. Secondly, Christianity is not an individualistic organization; rather, we are a team, a "co-op." A football team cannot possibly score if only the quarterback plays while the rest of the team sits on the bench. But, this is how most Christians play out their faith and walk. It also seems that the age-old myths of division of work between clergy and the laity are confused, such as the thinking that the role of the clergy is to do the ministry, while the lay people help out if they can. Or, the clergy takes care of the flock-period. Or even that ministry only takes place in the church by the clergy and not anywhere else by anyone else. We must have a proper understanding from Scripture of the role for the people of God, and the offices we occupy. Ministry takes place by all Christians, as we are all called to do it, and the ministry takes place wherever we the Christian might be-home, work (when appropriate), shopping, recreation, even at Taco Bell. The Christian is to engage the world, not just sit in a pew expecting a hired hand to serve them like a lone Texas rancher. We are not to carry out ministry only if we get a paycheck; we are to accomplish ministry because this is what our Lord has called us to do. We can only achieve this task with the understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Why? Because of the love we have received from Christ and the grace He has given us. We are to serve out of our gratitude and love, and let our faith and passion fuel our efforts so they do not become exercises of obligation only. We need to understand our responsibility as believers. The great commission is not addressed to the clergy only; rather, it is addressed to the whole body of Christ. Gifts used to build one another up and to serve were not given to the clergy only. Christianity is a cooperative effort, a unity and togetherness. When we function within these parameters and for one purpose, then the ministry will expand. We must be disciples who know how to use our gifts to better one another and in more contexts, and not expect someone else to do it.

Our question should be how can I be more effective, not how can the pastor be more effective?

When we function as a body of Christ effectively, then we can break the bonds of dependency on professional ministers only. As a pastor, I see my role as recruiting and training people to do primary care and ministry because I cannot do it all personally. In Youth Ministry, trained people are needed to help in various roles such as worship, personal contact, small group leaders, drivers, chaperones, and activity planners, etc. The minister cannot be everywhere teaching all the small groups, but they can train other people to do it and be their coach. Their role actually is to train and equip the lay person to do the bulk of the ministry. The pastor is normally considered a performer of the sacraments of baptism, marriage, funerals, and pronouncement of the Word, and this is true. The minister is also a trainer of the lay people and an equipper, not a solo act. They may need to perform the sacraments by themselves, but the rest of the church functions must be a cooperative effort. If it is not, the outcome is a dysfunctional church that is going nowhere.

A Team?

Can you imagine the greatest receiver in football history on your team? What about a team of just great receivers? Who would block, or pass the ball to you so you could receive it? We cannot have an effective relationship with Christ by ourselves, nor can we be a witness to the non-Christian as a solo effort. For us to know Christ and make Him known, we have to have a love for the church and its purpose, not just a love for our own whims and plans.

We cannot have a vital impact on our community without that connection with the body of Christ. We cannot do it alone. Billy Graham has a team of hundreds who prepare for a crusade, with the cooperation of most of the local churches before the event is even advertised. If Billy Graham would just show up unannounced in a community without the cooperative efforts of other Christians, the attendance and impact would be minimal, even given the track record and greatness of Billy Graham. He cannot do it alone, so why do other Christians think they can?

God works through people; He works through us. We must believe this and we must live our lives allowing this. Else, we could become just like the proverbial person who refuses to work, but buys lottery tickets, hoping their ship will come in. Friends, your ship is not coming in! You have to build it yourself with the tools and the supplies and even the empowerment that God gives you to do it. When we have the attitude in the church that we need to wait for our ship to come in, we are, in fact, making an excuse for not doing anything, like a kid trying to get out of their chores. We are just sitting on our rear ends, accomplishing nothing for the Kingdom of God. We need to realize how much this grieves our Lord, just as parents grieve for the child who refuses to go to school, refuses to work, or just sleeps all day and does nothing. That unfocused laziness and total lack of ambition becomes their child's life, not just for a short time, but for years. We must see the wondrous joy that comes from serving the Lord and the wonderful plan He has for us! It's a lot better then "pew sitting."

What does your Church see of its Lay People?

The ironic attitude of small churches is that most of them, but not all, refuse to help out the pastor as Christians are called to, since we are all ministers together. And, when the pastor tries to train and send out the lay people, he is confronted by frustrated and angry individuals who say, "we pay you to do that, why should we...?" The pastor's job is tough. He must be able to communicate the truth and wisdom of God's Word with the key political movers and shakers, and to transform their thinking from self-centered to God-centered. At the same time, he must convince the congregation that the Bible calls us to make disciples. A tough job indeed. It may sound easy, but most Christians are stubborn, and may verbalize acceptance but will not practice it. Maybe Blackmon's article is correct indeed.

It's not so much that Christians are lazy; it is that we get comfortable and familiar with what we know, and the ability to go beyond our experiences and knowledge can be scary and disconcerting. So the Christian, or any person for that matter, will resist and fight change even though it is to our best interest, and even though this is what God calls us to do.

The cross replaced the old way of the church, and the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom to lift up our Lord and the church became poured out by the Spirit to us, the body. Thus, the ministry and responsibilities became real and relevant to all rather than to just a handful of priests. The experience of the church was for all, and the ministry for all believers became our call.

The Temple veil separated the priests and the holiness of God from the people; it protected God from our sin, and protected us from the wrath of God. The veil has been lifted, or actually torn in two, because Christ paid that debt, and we now have access to God without fear of retribution. The division of responsibility of the specific chosen priests also has been muted for the most part. God still chooses people into the ministry as a call and vocation, and their responsibility is to administer the Word and Sacraments. They are responsible to equip and train the lay people, and do the priestly things of marriage, burial, the Lord's Supper, and proclaiming the Word.

The problem we run into is that most churches have forgotten that the veil has been torn, and expect the pastor to perform everything while they sit as spectators. Therefore, they do not have to fulfill their responsibility and call. We must ask the question do we have a healthy understanding of the purpose and mission of the church and the role of the lay person versus the pastor? In the years since the end of World War II, the church has finally but slowly adopted more of a role for the lay person, and a mentality that the ministry is not the sole responsibility of the pastor. Calvin and Luther clearly taught the ministry of all believers, and the Catholic Vatican II of 1962 also has a similar proposition to it.

We still have a deep rooted sense of ministerial obligation to the paid professional, and this is good, as long as it is a respect for the office the pastor holds, and we yield to our responsibility. But, when we lift the pastor up as the only available and willing caregiver, we will have a lot of hurt and wounded people in our church. The pastor cannot do it all, especially when the congregation puts on the bathrobe of laziness instead of the armor of Christ.

The local church must place a high value on the lay person to be the feet of the ministry. The church leadership needs to take the ownership that they are not there for the sake of the meeting, but for the sake of the Lord, and to release the gifts and power of the congregation. Then, the church can assess the gifts, and train and equip the people for the Lord's service, with ongoing encouragement and training. When we fail at this essential task that Calvin and Luther spoke of so much, then we have a failed church and a stressed out and over-worked pastor.

Lay People Need to be Equipped

The lay person must be continually trained and supported by the pastor and church leadership to carry the ministry burden of the church. We are all called to be participants, not spectators. Ministry is not to take place solely in the church; remember, we are the church, so wherever we are, there is the church. When someone is sick at home, the lay person can give comfort and care to that person as well as prayer. The ministry of the church takes place in the context of the need, not just the location; wherever people are in the world, there is the need. If we venture out of our planet some day, then the ministry would take place there too. The body of Christ needs to keep the focus of its call to Christ, of one another, and of the world. Ministry no longer takes place by the few chosen priests alone; it has been franchised out to the rest of the Christians who are equipped with the various gifts and abilities for doing the Will of God.

The questions that the priest or the pastor alone had were how can I minister effectively to my neighbor in all of life's situations? How can I live out the truths of Scripture and God's will in society? What is my role and what are the gifts in my life? How do I please God with them? What are my responsibilities to my local church and the neighbor across the street? The baton has been passed-not the role of head equipper and minister of the Word and Sacraments, but the baton of the responsibility to care and to live out our faith effectively to one another. These are the questions we must all answer diligently with the Word of God, and then follow through with our will to conform. Christianity is no longer a spectator sport; we are not Monday night couch quarterbacks. We are the people of God, called to do His will.

Lay people Need to be Encouraged

When we start to function as a cohesive group, we will be amazed at the impact we have and the incredible, increased effectiveness in the building of the Kingdom of God. God's Word tells us that we have "diversity," yet in it all, we also have "unity." We are not to allow the diversity to be our focus, but we need to embrace it, train it, and direct it to the call, goal, and purpose our Lord has for us. We will have a healthy form of codependency and cooperation, filled with encouragement and love. Bitterness, strife, and the unhealthy codependency that ruins lives instead of building them up will no longer consume the ministry.

We all have different gifts and abilities given to us by the Lord for His purpose and glory. "Doing ministry" means we are to exercise the gifts that we each have received to accomplish His purpose. And, until the Lord calls us home or comes back, we are to keep plugging and persevering on.

© 1999, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership,
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