The Witness of the Laity

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which people will come to know Christ and the United Methodist church will fulfill its mission.”

This sentence from the UM Book of Discipline par. 127 reveals the key for renewal of the church.  Did you catch that?  The key to renewal of the Methodist movement is the witness of the laity.  Not just laity leaders, but all laity – as we live our lives and tell our stories.  Let that sink in a bit.

Yes, laity leaders must partner with clergy leaders.  Supporting, encouraging, and following their leadership in the local congregation to fulfill our mission in their communities -- making disciples of Jesus Christ.  They must work together to develop each of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations described by Bishop Schnase, plus lead the church to Get Their Name, as Bob Farr writes. They also must tell their stories, relating how they’ve seen God recently, living lives that reflect a heart impacted by God’s Spirit.  To exemplify for all laity “their Christ-like example of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel . . .”   What an opportunity laity have as we live “out there” each day!  The witness of the laity.  I’m thankful for those who serve as examples for me, as I’ve still got a lot to learn and do in this area.
Let me turn now to a bit of reflection.  As I ponder the last 8 years of service as your conference lay leader, many things flow through my mind.  First, I’m thankful for the many, many examples of laity living lives of faith and service in the church in a variety of ways.  And I’m especially thankful for all those who make their entire lives examples of Jesus’ teaching in their homes, schools, workplaces, and countless community services.  I enjoy hearing about them and reading of their outreach ministry work in every issue of the Methodist Review.  Most of all, I enjoy hearing those lay persons tell their stories personally.  It’s been a real blessing to serve in this role and work with so many faithful lay persons, as well as pastors, whose daily lives witness to their faith. 
Our Vision during the last four years has been a conference full of “spiritually engaged laity leaders, partnering with pastors, leading congregations that are fruitful in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  Our strategies have included Connecting laity together in many ways, and providing Learning / Training opportunities for leaders to help them work with their pastors to strengthen their congregation’s ministries.  I very much appreciate the help and leadership of those laity who have served with me during these years, including Shannon Meister, Kevin Buckrucker, Ken Willard, Rick Matson, Jeff Fothergill, and many faithful district lay leaders. 
The vision of conference laity leaders will continue, though it may be restated differently with fresh strategic expressions – that’s good.  I’m looking forward to seeing the energetic, spiritual emphasis that your new conference lay leader Amy Thompson will bring.  She also will rely on a team of committed laity leaders, all working toward helping laity in local congregations to serve in partnership with their pastors to accomplish our disciple-making mission.  And you can look forward to her writings in this column in future issues.
The United Methodist Church has many challenges.  Yet our Missouri conference has many committed leaders, including laity, who are part of congregations offering the grace, truth, and hope of Jesus Christ to people in their communities.  That’s why I’m still EXCITED to be part of the Methodist movement today. 
I’m EXCITED to be among the thousands of laity in Missouri who seek to be Christ-like examples of every-day living and share faith experiences (witness of the laity).  Because I believe that God’s Spirit is very much alive and moving, connecting our past with a hope-filled future!

Thanks again for your leadership and your witness – the KEY to renewal of the Methodist movement!