I was so excited to hear about the wonderful Laity Sunday last week. I am very grateful to our excellent Lay Leader, Phyllis Stump, for all she did to plan these services and the reception. I had an opportunity to read Kevin Bruny's sermon and know that you received a blessing from his message. And for many of you, it was a great time to re-connect with a family who's meant much to Centenary in the past.
I've been thinking the last couple of weeks about the relationship of the ministry of ordained clergy and the ministry of the laity. One of the scriptures that has always guided my own understanding of ministry is from the Letter to the Ephesians. The writer, perhaps Paul or one of his students, says, in Ephesians 4:11-13, "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."
Those who are set apart by the church for ordained ministry have as their primary task equipping others for ministry. The true test of any minister's effectiveness, or any member of a church staff, is not how much ministry they do personally, but how many people they are able to equip for ministry and mission. That means that ordained clergy and paid staff members are meant to be co-equal partners with laity in discerning God's vision for a congregation at a particular time and place and then implementing that vision.
Throughout the history of the church, however, there have been many obstacles to that kind of relationship between clergy and laity. It is sometimes called "clericalism." People who use that term usually mean that when people are ordained for ministry or hired to serve a congregation, they are tempted to have an over-inflated sense of their own importance and begin to think that because of their place of leadership, they are to receive preferential or even deferential treatment of some kind or another. I'll let you think of your own encounters with forms of church polity and organization that play into that dynamic more than others.
My vision for the church, however, is that we become a place where every person is seen as a child of God with some unique gift or calling, that if not expressed and exercised, diminishes our health as a church. I find myself often asking, "What would a church be like if every member understood and claimed their gifts, and then given them the freedom to use those gifts? What would a church look like that served God based on the gifts of its members?" We'd spend less time lamenting the things we think we lack, and more time thanking God for the gifts God has given us, and then putting those gifts to work for God's glory and the good of others.
A couple of years ago, in an Administrative Council planning meeting, the number one goal for ministry identified by our lay leadership was to find ways to encourage more lay involvement and participation. What would it mean for us to be a lay-driven, clergy/staff-supported congregation, rather than a clergy/staff-driven, lay-supported church?
I think we'd unleash a great force for good in downtown Richmond! It might be a bit chaotic and messy moving toward a church that responds to God's call based on our gifts, but it would certainly not be boring!
If you'd like some help thinking about your gifts, please reach out to me or our Lay Leader, Phyllis Stump. And help us as our 2020 Committee seeks your input about God's vision for our church in the next 5 years.
These are exciting times at Centenary. God has blessed us in many ways. October 30 will be a great day when we thank God for all God has done to help us complete the renovation of the kitchen and the installation of a new elevator! I hope you won't miss our one worship service at 11:00 a.m., followed by brunch that day.
The sermon I'm working on this week is from II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. It's a text I turn to when I get weary or discouraged because it reminds me with God's help we will complete the journey of the Christian life victoriously. My title is "Crossing the Finish Line."
I look forward to seeing you Sunday!