Tag Archives: Laity

We (the Laity) Are the Church

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This is a second section from a Via de Cristo talk I gave on Laity in 1998.  When I mention my church, I am speaking of the church I belonged to at that time, not St. Paul’s.

Now God is all powerful and he could have chosen any number of ways to work out His purposes on earth.  Isn’t it amazing that He chose the church, and He chose us to do that.  To fully understand our role in God’s plan, we first need to think about the church– what it is, and what it is not.

The church is not a building.  My congregation, Peace In Christ Lutheran, meets in a little red brick church which is over one hundred years old.  With its’ iron fence and the cemetery out back, it looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell scene.  This building is very dear to my heart.  The men of Peace In Christ spent many, many hours renovating it for our use.  My younger daughter, Kate, was the first Peace In Christ baby baptized there.  Both of my daughters were confirmed there.  When our president called a while back to say we might be selling our building, I cried.  But I know that Peace In Christ is not made up of brick and mortar, it is a people, the living stones that form the body of Christ.  We were the church twenty years ago when we began meeting in a Civic Association with an altar on wheels;  and we will still be the church several years from now when we move to the new, modern, more functional building we have grown to need.

The church is not a kind of religious club.  If you’ve ever served on the church council, as I have, you know how easy it is to start thinking this way.  After all, we have a budget to balance and property to maintain.  Our members pay their dues (which we call pledges or tithes) and in return feel entitled to certain benefits, such as baptism, confirmation and marriage;  also free admission to all educational and social events.  But the church goes beyond the physical and temporal world of daily life.  When we say we are praising God along with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we’re not kidding!  The church is not just the visible, it includes the spiritual and invisible.

My church does all kinds of good works.  Some members serve breakfast at the local mission regularly.  Our AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) branch delivers food baskets at Christmas.  The Sunday School and Vacation Bible School students collect money for mission projects.  But the church is not a Social Services Agency created to dispense charity to the less fortunate.  In the church we are all equal in our need for God’s grace, we are all seated at His table together, sharing the life He alone offers.  I’ve heard the church described as “one group of beggars telling other beggars where they can find bread.”

In reality the church was created to be the living body of Christ in the world.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  And we are His witnesses.  Called forth by the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the disciples 2000 years ago to make His presence living, vibrant and real today.

Imagine yourself taking the hand of the person who first told you about Jesus.  Maybe it was your mother or father, a neighbor or a friend.  And then imagine that person taking hold of the person who told them and so on.  The chain would eventually go all the way back to someone who walked with Christ during His earthly life.  The church is this community of believers.  It is the people of God, the people chosen to be light and salt and leaven to a dark, hurting and hungry world.  We can’t let the chain stop with us.

I am the church, You are the church, We are the Church.  We are the body of our Lord, the restored children of God.

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The Mission of the Layperson

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This is taken from a talk I gave on a Via de Cristo weekend many years ago, but it seemed appropriate to include it this month.

By virtue of our baptism, we, as laypeople of the church have been called to live a new life, to “put on Christ.”  We are His hands and feet and voice in the world.  The church I visit in Myrtle Beach every year has a sign you see when you are exiting from the parking lot.  It says, “you are now entering the mission field.”  Our mission field is wherever we are–it is our family, our friends, the people we meet at work and in our neighborhoods.  And where you are is no accident– Martin Luther, in one of his sermons says,

“therefore, where you are in a calling that is not sinful in itself, you are certainly placed there by God.”

Isn’t that exciting?  It’s not only the clergy who are called, but every one of us.  Called to do God’s work in the place and with the people He has given to us.

In the same sermon, Luther says:

“To be spiritual and not busy with God’s word, which should be your special work, is like being married and never being together.”

A happy marriage radiates joy.  It reaches out and touches others.  The life of grace is the same.  Our whole life is changed and that change affects those around us.  Listen to what Christian author Catherine Jackson says will happen if we conform our life to Christ’s:

“When a believer follows the Lord faithfully several evidences appear sooner or later.  Meekness and quietness of spirit become….characteristics of daily life.  Other outward signs are:  grateful acceptance of the will of God as it comes in the hourly events of each day;  pliability in the hands of God to do or bear whatever He assigns us;  a sweet disposition, even under provocation, calmness in the midst of turmoil and confusion, willingness to let others have their way, refusal to notice slights and affronts, absence of worry, anxiety and fear.”

By living out our life in this kind of visible witness the good news becomes real, and the world in which we live is transformed.  As one new Christian told me, “who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

Realizing both our human ideal and God’s ideal for us isn’t easy.  Even the world says, “no pain, no gain.”  We must commit ourselves to living out the life of grace in every way that we can.  In our personal, professional, civic, economic and academic pursuits we are called to be saints and to make the world holy.

Pray for Your Pastor

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading the book, Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster.  This quote on intercessory prayer caught my eye:

“Intercessory prayer is priestly ministry, and one of the most challenging teachings in the New Testament is the universal priesthood of all Christians.  As priests, appointed and anointed by God, we have the honor of going before the Most High on behalf of others.  This is not optional;  it is a sacred obligation–and a precious privilege–of all who take up the yoke of Christ.”

In other words, as Christians, praying for others is our responsibility, something every single one of us should be doing daily.  Maybe you already do this, and if so, you probably think first of those who are ill, experiencing grief, or struggling in some way.  Today I’m asking, as you pray for congregation members, family and friends, missionaries and others do you also pray for your Pastor?  This is something very important that every lay person can do.

As a Pastor’s wife, I assure you, your Pastor needs prayer.  He has the same problems that you do, but often has nobody in whom he can confide.  He wants to be a Christian example to his flock, but still struggles with his own sin and temptations daily.  He loves you and the church, and when things go awry, he may feel he has failed.  His behavior and words are scrutinized every time he interacts with another person, and sometimes misinterpreted.  He spends a lot of time alone, or in hospitals and nursing homes, or counseling those with serious problems.  He can feel depressed and unappreciated.  He has been called to this work, but it often isn’t easy.

I was deeply touched when a member once told me, “my husband and I pray for you and Pastor every day.”  So I encourage you, as lay people, please consider this a ministry you can undertake.  It will strengthen you, your church and your Pastor, and it will mean so much to him.

If you need help, type “praying for your Pastor” into a search engine, and you will find many Biblical suggestions.

 

All the Saints

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English Bishop William How wrote the hymn, “For All the Saints,” in 1864 for All Saints Day, a day meant to honor departed saints, both known and unknown.  This hymn celebrates the saints who went before us—”who from their labors rest.”  It tells how God sustained them through difficult times—strengthened them to battle evil—brought them light in their darkest days.  When I hear it, I think about that “great cloud of witnesses” the author of Hebrews mentions, as well as the many saints who have served my own church, St. Paul’s over the 190+ years it has been in existence.  Guess what, most of them were members of the laity!  Isaac Newton, the great physicist and astronomer, said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We, the laity today, have been enriched and (as my husband puts it) “subsidized” by many faithful generations of Christians.  As you listen to this hymn, be thankful and think about what your part is in passing on the faith.  

 

The Laity and Liturgy

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The word “liturgy” means “work of the people.”  In a liturgical church, the Pastor may lead the worship service, but it is truly a work of everyone there; that is, the laity.

In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster classifies the liturgy as sacramental prayer.  Although some may protest that it encourages people to pray by rote and without emotional involvement, Foster says this kind of prayer can be freeing for the following reasons:

  1. It helps us to pray when we are feeling spent or inarticulate. There are many times when I don’t really feel like praying, but going to church on Sunday reinforces the habit of prayer and gets me back on track.
  2. It unites us with the “communion of saints” and reminds us that we’re part of something much bigger than we are as individuals, or even as our local congregation. When I visit a different Lutheran church on vacation and settle into a familiar liturgy, I feel instantly at home.
  3. It squashes the need to be entertaining. Anybody can do the liturgy.  You don’t have to have a way with words, or an outgoing personality.  Children quickly pick it up!  As an introvert, it helps me stop worrying about, “what am I going to say next?”  For me, it keeps the focus to remain on God, not the pray-er.
  4. The formality of the liturgy reminds us that God is awesome and should be approached with respect. He is the creator and we are His creatures.  Worship, in my mind, should be different from day-to-day life.
  5. Here’s my favorite: the liturgy keeps us from thinking we can practice religion privately.  It’s the work of the community, the people of God.  Foster describes it this way:

“It is so very human of us to allow our petty concerns to be the whole burden of our prayer.  Now it is not wrong to pray over our own pressing needs, but that must never be the end of our prayer work.  Through the liturgy we are constantly being brought back to the life of the whole community; we are constantly being confronted with sound doctrine;  we are constantly being forced to hear the whimper of the poor and see the tumult of nations.”

So next time you think about skipping your weekly worship service, think again.  You’re needed.  You don’t have to be the Pastor, or the reader, or in the choir. You’re not “the audience.”  It’s part of your work as a Christian lay person to support the community in worship.  Be there.

The Laity — Christians in Action

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“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve, if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage then give encouragement; if it is giving then give generously; if it is to lead do it diligently; if it is to show mercy do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6-8

The book of Acts in the Bible is actually a type of genre that was popular in its time.  Such works chronicled the acts of a heroic figure or an important city.  Some commentators divide this book into the acts of Peter and Paul, but read through it and you will meet a host of gifted early Christians.  These were some of the original laity, and they ought to give us an idea of the many things lay people can accomplish.

  • Lydia used her gift of hospitality to invited others into her home to hear the gospel. (Acts 16:15)
  • Philip had the gift of evangelism.  He witnessed one-on-one to an Ethiopian. (Acts 8:35)
  • Barnabas was called “son of encouragement.” He encouraged Paul, Mark and others.(Acts 4:36)
  • Stephen was known for his wisdom.(Acts 6:10)
  • Cornelius was generous and faithful.(Acts 10:1-2)
  • Tabitha served others. (Acts 9:36)
  • The Bereans studied the Bible earnestly to gain knowledge. (17:10-11)
  • Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila were all gifted teachers (Acts 18:24-26)

Peter and Paul deserve our respect and admiration, but they could not have spread the gospel alone.  The church needs pastors and missionaries, but it also needs the laity.  We have been given gifts to support, encourage and maintain the church.  We also have the ability to reach and serve people in our family, community and work environments, who may never meet the pastor.  Study the book of Acts and see where your special gift fits in — the church needs you!

The Laity– Free and Living

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

I’ve spent my adult years in Lutheran denominations with a congregational polity – first the Missouri Synod, now the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches).  What does this mean?  Well, it means that the congregation, and therefore, the laity have a crucial role to play.  They own their church building; they call their pastor; higher church officials cannot dictate how they must organize or conduct the congregation’s business.

According to the AFLC:

“Each local congregation should be free and living, subject only to the Word and Spirit of God.”

The Association is not a Synod and does not have the authority to bind the conscience of the local congregation to particular positions. They do not assess local congregations in order to obtain funding. The purpose of the Association is to do the tasks together that cannot be done by one congregation alone:  send missionaries, publish Lutheran materials, support mission congregations, educate pastors, and so on.  For each purpose, separate corporations have been formed, and every corporation must have more lay members than pastors.

To be a member of the AFLC, the congregation simply agrees that they accept the Augsburg Confession, The Small Catechism and the inerrancy of Scripture.  When our congregation voted to join the Association, we had a visit from Pastor Bob Lee, who was then the President.  Many questions were raised, such as:

Can women be Elders?

Can we hire a youth leader who is not a Lutheran?

Can lay people take communion to shut-ins?

The answer to virtually every question was, “It’s up to you.”  This was a surprise to many.

Of course, with this freedom comes responsibility.  The laity must be well grounded in Scripture in order to make appropriate decisions.  They must prayerfully consider issues facing their congregation and be willing to make personal sacrifices when necessary.  A congregational mindset fosters the understanding that the congregation is not just something we join like a club; it is who we are as the people of God.

Sometimes we don’t question the way we’re organized or do things, but we should.  The framework we use affects our view of ourselves, the Church, and what it means to be a Christian.  It comes back to the question I raised in an earlier post.  Do you want to be an adult Christian, taking personal responsibility for growing in your knowledge of Christ and in service to others?  Are you part of the “priesthood of all believers” or just a consumer of Christian services?

I’m not saying other ways of organizing are wrong.  God can use all sorts of tools to grow His church; but being part of a congregational church body has worked for me.  It’s my framework and within it, I’ve learned to thrive.  Readers and authors, do you have a different experience/opinion?  I’d like to hear more.

Through the Generations

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“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty deeds.”  Psalm 145:4

I’m writing this on Sunday, and we had a baptism at our church.  As a part of the service, the parents, the sponsors and the congregation make promises.  We are all charged with seeing that this child is brought up with good Christian instruction and examples.  We are to pray for him or her.  Here is the reasoning:

“We believe that God gives the gift of faith in baptism, but that this gift will be lost unless the child is taught the Word of God, upheld by prayer and given a Christian example to follow.  This is first the responsibility of you parents, then of the sponsors, and the entire congregation.  May we remain faithful in this responsibility and privilege.”

Do you get it?  This is task belongs to the laity of the church. We are the ones who are to see that the faith is passed on through the generations.  I wonder how seriously we take this promise. Too often, babies are baptized because it’s a kind of social or family ritual.  We don’t see them again (or not very often) and we just forget about those important promises we made before God, no less.  I’m as guilty as anyone, but lately I’ve been thinking about how to do a better job.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. We could start a cradle roll program.  (This involves purchasing packets with Christian information to be sent to families with young children periodically)
  2. We can certainly add newly baptized children to our personal and corporate prayers.  In fact, we committed to do this by our participation in the baptismal service.
  3. We can stay in touch with the parents if they do not attend regularly, inviting them to events, and offering babysitting services if that is needed.

Our church is almost 200 years old, and it is humbling to think about the generations who have passed on the message of the faith to their own children and others in this place.  Here’s what they had to say in the original Declaration of Principles:

 ” We take Heaven and Earth as our witnesses of our attachment to Evangelical Christianity and that its extension is our most ardent desire; that it is our wish that the doctrine of Christ’s atonement may be proclaimed to destitute souls here in this place; that we expect our children and our children’s children never to forsake their church, but to be true to it.”

We are links in a chain, a chain that goes back not only 200 years at St. Paul’s, but all the way back to the disciples who walked with Christ.  We can’t let His message stop with us.  It’s our duty, as lay people in the church to pass it on.  We need to take that duty seriously.  What are some ways your congregation has found to do this?  I would like to hear more ideas.

 

T.E.A.M.

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“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  1 Peter 4:10

You’ve probably heard this before:  T.E.A.M = Together everyone accomplishes more.  It’s true in the church as well as in business.  The laity of the church, along with the Pastor are a team.  Often the Bible speaks of the church as a “body.”  We have different gifts and different functions.  We do our best work when all the parts are working together.  If one body part isn’t doing its’ job, the whole body suffers.

I’ve had some of my best life experiences working with others in the church.  Years ago, I wrote original Vacation Bible School programs for my church.  It wasn’t a solo effort.  I did the curriculum, but my sister, who is artistically creative, suggested crafts;  a member who loved to sing chose and led the music; a preschool teacher gave us suggestions about which things would work well with different age groups;  a great organizer became the director.  We did this for about five years, and when I see one of those ladies today they often mention what fun we had pulling it all together!  I could never have done it all on my own.

This blog is another example.  Although my blogging friends tease me about being the obsessive blogger, Michele was the driving force in getting the blog set up and going;  Paula made it pretty and added some features we didn’t know how to do;  Beth Ann started me thinking about posting songs and music … and so on.  It is a true group effort and I just love it when God mixes with us in a way that creates something none of us imagined we could do.

The best thing about T.E.A.M efforts?  As Peter says in the quote above, they are a way to pass God’s grace on to others.  Isn’t that what the church is all about?  So, my advice is, dream big, and then find some others who will dream along with you.  Pray, work, and let God use you in amazing ways.

He loves you and so do I!

 

Your Calling

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“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:1

I hear quite a few people speak about their church as if they are merely consumers, making a choice about what is best for them.  They belong to a church for reasons like these:

  • I love the Pastor
  • It has a great youth program for my kids
  • The music is fantastic
  • My friends go there

I’ve also heard people reject a church because:

  • I don’t feel uplifted
  • I’m not being fed spiritually
  • I don’t like someone who is a member
  • I prefer a different kind of music

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with loving your Pastor, the music, the programs or the people in your church.  There is something wrong with making a choice that’s all about you.  I personally believe that the lay people of the congregation are called to be there every bit as much as the Pastor.  We’re part of the body of Christ.  We all have gifts and talents to build up the body.  We’re all needed.  We are to be worthy of that calling.

That means our choice of a congregation should be based, in great part, on where God is calling us to serve.  It means once we have accepted our call, we need to be humble and bear with others even when we don’t agree with them.  It means we don’t change congregations just because we liked the old Pastor better;  we don’t get mad and leave in a snit.  We settle in, we become family and we work together.

“Look careful then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 4:15-17

You’ve been called.  Are you blooming where you are planted?  Are you walking in a worthy manner?  Are you God’s servant in the place He has placed you?  Or are you just a religious consumer?