Clergy/Laity Distinction?

question markClergy/laity distinction… It’s a phrase that gets kicked around a lot, especially in the world of equipping leaders. But what does it really mean? Is there a clergy/laity distinction? Should there be? I think that it depends on who you ask and in what context you are asking.

I recently referenced the clergy/laity distinction in a sermon. Actually, I threw down my soapbox, climbed upon it, and proceeded to inform my parish that this distinction is a lie that divides the church and causes no small amount of confusion and misunderstanding. Apparently I was actually quite “feisty” about it, according to one listener! That’s not surprising, since for years I have been on a mini-crusade to promote equality of ministry. But another listener pointed out the irony that I would insist that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity, all the while appearing distinctly different from the rest of the parish as I stood before them in my white alb and deacon’s stole. Ouch!

I was preaching from Ephesians 4:1-16, pointing out that the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to do all the ministry themselves. The purpose of this is to create unity out of the variety of spiritual gifts and diversity of responsibilities so that we all grow up together as one body, into Christ who is the head. I referenced the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12, using the body as a metaphor to help his readers understand that all the “working parts” are necessary and equal in their value to the body as a whole. I spoke at length on the way we are interdependent and how this creates unity in the church as we each recognize our part–our ministry–and serve accordingly. In this context, I believe there should be no distinction between the value of the ministry of the clergy and that of the laity.

On the other hand… Both the senior pastor and I are ordained. We wear vestments for worship. Doesn’t that distinguish us from everyone else? And our denomination has an episcopal structure; we are governed by bishops. Doesn’t that represent a hierarchy of power? The answer to both questions is, of course, yes. There is definitely a clergy/laity distinction in this context, that of creating order in the church. It is a system of authority that is intended to guard the integrity of scripture and the sacraments. As an Anglican, I value the distinction between clergy and laity in this ordering of our church.

My point? As equipping leaders, we need to be careful about how we throw that “clergy/laity distinction” phrase around. We might actually contribute to the misunderstanding and confusion, missing the opportunity to restore the worth of each and every minister and the ministry they perform.

The missing link

I am a church member.

I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  (read the entire blog post here)

Wouldn’t it be great if every single church member shared this perspective on membership? There would be no need for stewardship campaigns; there would be plenty of resources for ministry! Ministry would no longer belong only to the “paid holy people.” Instead of bemoaning the lack of volunteer ministers, church leaders would be scrambling to accommodate all those willing servants! There would be baptisms every Sunday as new believers professed their faith in Christ. Small groups would be regularly digging into the word of God–not just storehousing knowledge, but actually living it out as they went about their days blessing others.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be great! A perfectly unified church… But how?

Here’s a hint:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)

Quoting Eric Geiger, Thom Rainer writes:

For the sake of brevity, let’s deal only with the role of pastors/teachers. Note these truths from the text:

  • Christ (He) personally gave this role. It was important to Him, so it has to be important to us.
  • The role of pastors is not so much to do ministry, as it is to train or equip others to do ministry.
  • If pastors fulfill this role, the body of Christ is built up.
  • As the body of Christ is built up, the believers become unified in the faith.

The passage is clear. As pastors are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity in the church. (read the entire blog post here)

Rainer goes on to say that they uncovered an interesting–and unsettling–statistic through their research:

Almost all pastors we surveyed affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry. But almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so. For most pastors, the reasons behind this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.

Are we, as pastors/teachers, the missing link? Have we developed a plan for equipping our people, raising them up to be fully devoted followers of Christ? Are executing that plan? Do you need to develop one, write down what you are going to do and how you are going to do it…step by step? I’m not sure there’s anything more deserving of our time than equipping our people for ministry.

Perhaps the first step–one we may have overlooked–is teaching our people what it means to be a church member.

Size Matters…So?

changeContinuing from yesterday

Gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be a pastoral-size church necessitates changes in our leadership and ministry structure. For starters, the senior pastor and I will be leading the various ministry teams. In order to make that manageable, I am faced with making changes…changes which feel like the antithesis of everything I’ve learned and practiced to this point! However, being mindful of equipping values–prayer, priesthood of believers and vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4, servant leadership, team ministry, intentionality, proactive towards change–is my insurance against sabotaging the progress made in developing an equipping culture. What follows are some of the changes necessary to adapt to our smaller size.

1. Streamlining ministry tasks

In the program-size church paradigm, I’ve encouraged division of ministry tasks into “bite-sized” pieces, creating more opportunities for people to participate according to their unique design for ministry. However, in our pastoral-size church, I have to face the fact that there are simply not enough people to fill all those roles. Therefore, I am re-evaluating each task, asking if it’s truly necessary,whether it can be combined with other tasks, and then re-writing the ministry description to reflect the changes in tasks and qualifications.

2. Delegating tasks

In the program-size church, my primary role was to lead the leaders. I was not focused on the ministry tasks–that was the ministry leader’s responsibility. My role was to develop their leadership ability and encourage their spiritual well-being. In my new role as ministry team leader, delegating tasks becomes my responsibility, in addition to identifying potential leaders and encouraging the well-being of all the team members. Some tasks I will be able to delegate according to the gifting/design of the individual team members; however, having fewer team members means that there will be some tasks that will fall to me (incentive to do a good job with #1 above!).

3. Consolidating ministry teams

Because there are now two of us providing leadership for the various ministries, we will be consolidating some of our teams. For example, our Toddler and Children’s Church teams will become one. That is not to say that we are combining toddlers and elementary age children! Rather, those two teams will become one. Another example: all those who serve in the sanctuary for Sunday worship will fold into one Worship Team, rather than having an Altar Team, a Lay Leader Team, and a Music Team. By consolidating teams, we will be better able to coordinate and provide leadership.

4. Ministry training

This is probably the biggest challenge of all. In the program-size church, each team leader would provide the training for their team. Now that we have only two leaders and larger teams with more diverse tasks, individualized training would require too much time and energy. Our ministry training will need to be crafted for the larger group, more generalized, yet provide enough specificity to be sure that everyone is fully equipped to accomplish what is being asked of them. Two benefits to this larger training: 1) it provides a natural opportunity for re-casting vision and 2) everyone will have a general feel for all the ministries, potentially providing a larger pool of “substitutes” when we are short-handed. Specific training for each ministry task can be recorded and given to the individual team members to view at their convenience, with opportunity for follow up conversation as needed.

Size matters. Understanding the different expectations based on church size is essential to developing a successful equipping culture. While I work to adapt the equipping practices I’ve learned over the years to a pastoral-size church, I must remember that the day may come when our parish outgrows this pastoral-church paradigm and I find myself faced with the transition to the (once familiar) program-size church paradigm. With that in mind, I will continue to cast vision for a less clergy-centric leadership structure, identify and develop potential leaders, and give away ministry as God provides the capable and willing people he has called to serve.

In the meantime, I won’t be trying to fit that fat size 9 foot into a sleek and slender size 6 shoe!

Size Matters

In the culture of American church-dom, we hear and read often about the declining membership of churches–all denominations, all sizes. I don’t know of a single pastor or ministry leader that enjoys admitting that their congregation or their ministry is shrinking, no matter how obvious the shrinkage is! Declining attendance is often construed as failure. Sometimes it is; but sometimes the attrition is based on circumstances beyond the control of leadership. For example, my church has said good-bye to several members who have had to re-locate due to employment opportunities, as well as some who have gone to the mission field. That’s hardly failure! But whatever the reason for the decline, denial and a refusal to adapt to the change will most certainly lead to the failure we fear.cinderella slipper

I’ve recently begun to feel like one of Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to stuff a fat size 9 foot into a sleek size 6 shoe, and I am beginning to understand why. I have continued to use practices suited to a larger church even as our numbers have declined.

When church size changes, leadership and ministry structure must be adapted to fit the new size.

I’ve been reading up on church size and why it matters. Several years ago Arlin Rothauge wrote about the relationship between leadership and church size in a little publication entitled Sizing Up A Congregation*. Rothauge classified churches into four categories based on size:

  • The Family  Church: 0-50 members
  • The Pastoral Church: 50-150 members
  • The Program Church: 150-350 members
  • The Corporation Church: 350-500+ members

Rothauge (as well as the writings of a few others) has helped me see why church size matters. (Let me say now that I don’t think it prudent to lock in on these mathematical models–in fact, there are other studies that reflect different models–but they do offer a context for understanding the dynamics associated with different size churches.) I understand more fully why it’s not possible to simply “scale down” practices designed for the program- and corporation-size church in an attempt to make them work in the pastoral- to family-size church.

My church was teetering on the edge of becoming a program church in our ethos, if not quite in our number. However, we are now firmly a pastoral-size church, and Rothauge’s assessment that “the membership looks first to the central leader for direction, inspiration, and pastoral care” is spot-on. The very fact that we have an average Sunday attendance of 55-60 means that it is quite natural and easy for members to relate directly to our pastor. In larger churches, it’s more difficult to have that same ease of access to the senior leadership.

Simply understanding this relationship dynamic helps me see why it is a challenge to raise up team leaders. One of the key arguments used in a program-size church for enlisting volunteer leaders is that there are too many people–too many ministries–for one person (senior pastor) to lead. However, in a church of 50 that argument won’t win the case. Add that to the general busyness of most people’s lives and it’s understandable why they are unwilling to step into a leadership role. They don’t see the need. Yet, without volunteer ministry leaders, the landscape of ministry changes considerably.

It’s time we changed with it. In fact, it’s imperative. Come back tomorrow for a look at how we are navigating change…

 

*a PDF version is available online