laity (a missiology for the west)

October 10, 2008

(This post is part of a series reflecting on David Bosch’s six distinctives for a missiology of Western culture. See the introductory post for a little background.)

A missionary encounter with the West will have to be, primarily, a ministry of the laity.

I suppose one might argue that the laity are being given more opportunities for responsibility in churches now than they have in decades. (Laity would refer to volunteers, or anyone in a church that is not professional clergy.) The emphasis in a lot of my experiences with Evangelicalism is for pastors to be those who raise up lay people for the purpose of leading and running the ministries of the church.

This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but I hope we can see the need for more. The laity are equipped to do far more than offer energy and ideas for the ministries of a church. I think Bosch was envisioning much more as well. He emphasizes the importance of the laity for two reasons:

first, the church’s witness will be much more credible if it comes from those who do not belong to the guild of pastors;

From my observations, I’m finding this to be true sometimes, but not always. Some I know avoid stating that they are in professional ministry as much as possible, expecting that such a revelation will immediately shut down conversations. Others I know embrace the role of clergy, and function well with the title of pastor outside of the church building’s walls. (I really appreciate how Kester seems to have developed a persona as a pastor at large for Austin.) I’m finding a happy middle ground by making 2/3 of my income as a professional pastor, and 1/3 doing web design. When I meet someone, mentioning that I do both offers to different routes from which the conversation might proceed, and two different means to gain (or perhaps lose!) credibility with others.

Bosch continues:

and second, only in this way will we begin to bring together what our culture has divided, the private and the public, for the lay members of the church clearly belong to the public and secular world, whereas the pastors belong to a separate, “religious” world.

Dualism in Christianity is a buzz topic for me — I tend to see it playing out everywhere, so I can’t help but see how Bosch addresses it with this idea. An empowered laity is a statement against the spiritual vs. unspiritual dualism that distorts Christianity today. The lay people of a church must be seen not just as resources to enhance programs and ministries within our churches. They are the body of Christ, with opportunities to engage in the every day as sacred agents of the Kingdom of God.

I love this idea, but I must admit it is still threatening to me as well. What does it mean for me to pastor a community of people that are so engaged outside of the church that it can’t be measured? How can we shape a community the celebrates well the stories of what is happening outside of our structured times together?

The fundamental truth, as I see it, is this — the laity are a great asset to a church community not because what they can do “inside” the church, but for what they can do “outside”. The church is the sent people of God, so how can we better honor the sacred vocation of those who are “sent” Monday through Saturday?

Next post: a local, worshiping community

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