By Mitch Ross
What does a Lay Leader really do? The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline outlines responsibilities for lay leaders, but that is the easy answer.
To answer candidly, we need to recognize the role of laity in the church. “The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as sharing their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.” (Book of Discipline, 127). Fueled by the Holy Spirit, as they are, and without apology, the laity witness, obey, love, lead and reach-out with the full measure of Christ’s empowerment. The laity are not expected to serve perfectly but are expected to commit wholly to the mission of the church. Here is the leadership challenge of lay leader.
Lay leaders are advocates for a diverse collection of believers representing all fashions of spiritual maturity with an obligation to lead others to Christ. The lay leader encourages, teaches, exhorts, shepherds, and equips laity. When the church is called, the lay leader is the first to say “yes.” When the pastor needs to know the temperament of the congregation, the lay leader is the barometer. If the pastor holds up the mission before the congregation, the lay leader holds the light.
The pastor provides biblical principles, and the lay leader upholds each principle on the pastor’s behalf. If a lay leader feels overcome by inadequacy, know this: Jesus never looked about for the holiest disciple to send out into the world. He sent sinners and fumblers, and they succeeded not because they were adequate but because Jesus was with them.
Rather than provide a laundry list of leadership practices consider just three recommendations for lay leader success. First, pray regularly and pray with the pastor. Prayer provides the strength to commit and share faith.
Second, commit yourself to leadership development. The district, conference and pastor can offer resources to grow your leadership skill set. Search the Bible for leadership examples, and share those examples with other leaders in your church. Third, partner with the pastor. The pastor illuminates the vision of the church, and the lay leader echoes the long-range view of where the church is going. Frequent communication with the pastor builds trust.
Be compassionately honest with the pastor when there are problems that need to be addressed. The lay leader is both filter, protecting the pastor, and funnel, providing feedback that adds valuable information the pastor needs. Lay leaders must remind the church that the laity and clergy have more in common than what separates them. The pastor’s role is not to please everyone, and pastors are vulnerable humans like us all.
Are you the best choice for lay leader? Stanley Hauerwas was named best theologian by Time Magazine in 2001. His response was, “Best is not a theological category.” The qualification for a lay leader is one who loves God and loves people. That is sufficient.
Mitch Ross is the Southwest District Lay Leader and is a certified lay speaker. He attends Stockton United Methodist Church and has a passion for lay ministries and discipleship. He is a member of the Missouri Conference Core Practices Team.