Monday, April 06, 2009

Lay Leadership for the 21st Century Church

Baptists in the South, along with mainline churches such as Methodists, Presbyterians, and some others, once prided themselves on their lay religious education programs. They emphasized that the “church school” was not just for children and youth but for adults as well. Baptists offered opportunities for laity to take “study courses” based on books that covered everything from Bible survey to Sunday school growth methodology.

How are we equipping lay people for church leadership today? In reality, most of our churches are not. I am not calling for a return to the “Church Study Course,” but I do think this is a neglected area in many of our churches. We do a good job of Bible teaching but little to equip lay leaders.

As we think about this challenge, let me share a few observations about the adults we have the opportunity to equip for ministry. Some of these are based on my experience in leading a couple of lay learning experiences in our church. They are not meant to be perceived as positives or negatives but as factors to consider in the intentional formation of lay leaders.

First, they are very educated people. More of them have some college and many have been involved in management and leadership training in their companies and communities. Many are avid readers. They know good training when they see it.

Second, they are digitally connected. Although they may not be in love with technology, they are exposed to it on a regular basis and many are adept at using it. This skill is not limited to young adults; this is true of many adults of all ages.

Third, they are busy people. There are many demands on their time—work, community service, family, and the logistics of “doing life”—shopping, housework, home repair, paying bills, etc. Carving out time for something else is not easy.

Fourth, they come from various denominations. Many people who have become lay leaders in your church probably did not grow up in your faith tradition. In leadership classes I have done in our church, I have found a number who grew up in other faith groups including Roman Catholics. Again, this is not a bad thing and may even be a blessing!

Fifth, their family situations vary. Some are part of the traditional “Mom and Dad, three kids, and a dog” kind of family, but others are in a second marriage, have blended families, are single parents, have never been married, or are single adults caring for aging parents.

Sixth, they are open to new relationships. One of the most significant by-products of a leadership training experience can be bringing people from different generations and walks of life together. In churches of any size—large or small--I have found it quite common that people don’t know each other. They know their Sunday school classmates or those they work with on various projects, but their sphere of involvement is limited.

Seventh, they are seeking spiritual insight for their lives. Many adults hunger for a place where they can share their deepest needs without judgment and find spiritual guidance. This may sound like a simple thing, but most adults have to search to find this type of community.

Equipping adults as leaders for the 21st century church is one of the most significant opportunities open to us today. The task will require our best thinking and ample resources of people, time, and money.

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