By Tasha Stephens
Empower and empowerment are common catch phrases these days, in church and in other areas of our lives. Words that are overused tend to lose their impact, although this term resonates with me, regardless of how often I hear it – I like it! Empower means the power, right or authority to do something.
As laity, we often feel unable to do much without the approval, oversight or agreement of our pastor or administrative council. But we have been empowered – unleashed, even – to be kingdom builders. It is foundational to Methodism that laity are empowered to bring the message and to serve the last, the least and the lost in myriad ways. We don’t need permission. It is given to us as the children of God.
Ephesians 4:8-12 (NASB) reads, “When He ascended on high, He led captive the captives, and He gave gifts to people.” Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.”
Scripture tells us that God has given each of us gifts to use in ministry to build the Kingdom. We are empowered.
As we have lived in a time of a pandemic, we have had time to look inward, both of ourselves and of our conference. The district lay leaders and lay servant ministry coordinators have also been looking inward, at our programs and courses. What we have discovered is that we need to get back to our roots of Methodism in empowering laity through education and opportunities.
Collectively, we have come to the conclusion that our conference needs educated, empowered laity to keep Methodism alive in our state, both in traditional ways and in new ways. Many small churches dot our landscape, creating a large number of Methodists across the connection. They may be small congregations, but are mighty, and need someone to help guide them and provide pulpit supply. And we have laity who feel called to do that.
We have laity called to different types of ministry – disaster recovery, teaching, caring for the lonely and jailed, leading a congregation alongside a pastor, feeding the hungry – the list is endless. And we are good at identifying where help is needed and jumping in as the hands and feet of Jesus.
We are working out the nuances and details for new, intentional learning pathways for laity. We will offer opportunities for laity to be equipped to live into their call through on-demand courses, new courses, and offering traditional lay education with more current information and exploring those courses with an eye to understanding cultural differences and similarities. During Annual Conference on Sunday afternoon, be sure to attend or livestream the Laity Address to learn more. District lay leaders and lay servant coordinators are excited about what is to come, and we are hopeful that more laity will become engaged without feeling like they have to make a huge time commitment or jump into a learning tract that takes months or years to complete.
The power of one. The power of THE one. John Wesley understood the importance of an empowered laity. We probably wouldn’t be Methodists today were it not for the laity. And pastors are a key partner in empowering laity. Open your church for a course. Work with your congregation to identify those with gifts of administration, teaching, preaching and worship. Help them connect with other laity in your pastor friends’ churches. Help build the network. Pastors and laity in shared ministry have a huge, lasting Earthly kingdom impact. Be empowered! We have more work to do!