Does your church support, encourage and celebrate "ministry" from the laity?

Note: If you are not Christian, and therefore are not involved in a church, but are involved (or have been) with another form of at least semi-organized religion, please feel free to share your experiences.

Note 2:I put ministry in quotes because I want to encourage people to use a fairly broad definition of ministry. Bringing food to the sick, proselytizing, and anything else which somehow aids the visibility of your belief system in the world or is nice to your fellow man is welcome. It doesn’t have to be as formal as teaching Sunday school or preaching.

Note 3: Laity=non-clergy. The ordinary folk. The ones who are not paid by anyone, those who sit in the pews each week, those who have no special title, the congregation, etc.

Note 4: This thread was inspired by this being Laity Sunday in the United Methodist Church, so lay people in churches all over were giving sermons, reading scripture and otherwise giving the clergy a break. This is a good thing, except I couldn’t stand the guy who dominated this morning’s service. Among other failings, he was way too smug about only United Methodists (and some denomination I’m not familiar with, so it must not be one of the biggies) celebrating the ministry of ordinary folk, so I come to you.

The question: **How does your church/group celebrate and encourage ordinary folk to be “full-time ministers” or otherwise encourage witnessing, acts of charity, and other good deeds done in the name of your church/group/God? **

I think you may have been quite happy at my Episcopal church today. It was Children’s Day and the Old Testament and Epistle lessons were read by children.

Hah, it was at our (completely different) church as well–every kid age 3-11 had a little bit to say. As a whole, the program illustrated what they’ve been doing all year, mostly in their own words.

My church doesn’t have much in the way of full-time ministry, so everyone is expected to have some kind of job (I currently act as secretary for the children’s organization and run a women’s book club, which puts me on the board for planning women’s activities). It’s part of the deal. Everyone switches jobs every so often.

As for taking care of each other, we have a sort of network where, in theory, everyone has a few people to visit or call every month to check in, say hi, and if there are any problems to help out. So if I had a minor emergency or a problem, I have a couple people I can call first and it’s their job to do whatever they can and so on.

A few people in a congregation will have the job of overseeing help efforts such as meals for sick people or new moms, anything that will require long-term signing up for babysitting/cleaning/meal/whatever rotations.

Serious welfare needs are overseen by a few people at the top of the congregational organization.

Not what I’m looking for. Celebrating children is great, but it’s not at all what I’m curious about, not at all what the guy who annoyed me claimed Methodists do and (almost) nobody else does. Of course, I’m not sure I’ve explained it well.

As a fellow United Methodist, I can’t really broaden the perspective much. I do recall telling a Baptist friend once about some hassle I was dealing with as PPR chair and her reaction was definitely along the lines of “Surely your church has people to take care of that!?” It is my impression that the UMC gives members a broader role in governance (not exactly the same as ministry) than other Christian churches tend to do. I can see how it would be annoying to brag on that too much, though.

Dangermom, do you mind if I send you a PM, a question about some of the details of this stuff? Nothing serious, just curiosity.

I’m Catholic. Every Sunday we have lectors, who do both the first and second readings. We also have Eucharistic Ministers who help distribute Holy Communion. And alter servers (used to be alter boys, but most parishes use both genders). We have people teaching the kids their CCD and leading RCIA (convert classes). People take Communion to shut-ins, the sick and elderly. Choir members, too, I consider a form of ministry. Plus a whole host of other volunteer folks (people who organize the goods and medical trips to Haiti, People who run the used clothes and food handouts, etc.)


Yeah, sure, shoot.
I should also add that we don’t really have a weekly sermon from a preacher. Everyone takes turns to speak. Usually you’ll have two main speakers in a service, plus maybe a teenager for a couple of minutes and sometimes a musical number from the choir or someone. So once every year or two, you get handed an envelope with the topic and date you’re assigned to speak on! :eek:

Same religion as Dangermom so what she said.

My work place once required I get a letter from my minister if I wanted Sundayes off to go to church. I thought it was phone that be getting a letter from my Bishop (what the “minister” of an LDS ward is called) I would also be getting a letter from my lawyer as they were at the time the same man.

Unitarian Universalist - we have laity led congregations (though mine has a full time minister with a PhD in Theology, plus some of our staff have ministerial degrees or backgrounds). My minister only speaks about half the time, the other half we have guest speakers who are usually members of the congregation (though sometimes they come from outside the congregation and sometimes they are clergy of other UU churches, or even other denominations). The pastoral care team (ministering to the sick, elderly, those in need) is made up of clergy and lay.

Quakers are often completely lay led as well, by the way.

Non-religious (though raised Lutheran), but I’ve been listening to my friends’ tales of late regarding his own church. He was raised Baptist, but he’s now going to a Presbyterian church, because it’s in his new town and he liked the minister. That minister is now gone–which means he likes the church somewhat less, but, more apropos to the OP, the laity has been having to fill in a great deal more. When they can’t get a guest minister in, the congregation has to partake in “faith sharing,” in which the members take turns standing up and talking about their recent experiences with faith. He says it’s rather hit-or-miss, though it sounds like it may, at least, spread the responsibility to more people than as is the case with the OP, so you don’t have one individual monopolizing things.

This is certainly not the first I’ve been exposed to Laity Sunday, and this was one of the worse examples of the “Bob Smith” Show I’ve ever seen–although that may be because this guy rubbed me the wrong way with everything he said. I’ll refrain from specifics, partly because my grievances are likely to sound more petty than anything else, and partly in the interest of not making it easy for anyone to identify me based on “Hm, I went to church led by that guy, too”. It also happens to be (one of) the smallest churches I’ve ever attended regularly, so that may have contributed to my sense that the guy who gave the sermon gave too many of the announcements and other stuff–sometimes churches spread the burden out more.

Churches which are entirely led by lay people are really beyond the scope of my interest, but it’s my fault for broadening my question too much (and it is useful to be reminded that there are many churches which don’t depend so much on individual paid clergy).

So thanks to all for your varied input, even if it’s not quite what I was looking for.

I grew up Presbyterian, which is a very “democratic” kind of church. There’s a pastor, but he’s the church’s employee, not God’s Chosen Representative or anything. He works with the Session, which is the duly elected ruling body of the church. There’s a lot of committees the Session runs - um, Worship Committee works with the pastor (actually they have two pastors now, a husband and wife, who are both 3/4 time) to set up the services, the Stewardship Committee does a lot of the “church stuff”, um, I think there’s an Evangelism Committee, I forget what else. The only other actual employees are the choir director/organist and the secretary - everything else is done by the members.

The pastors visit people in the hospital and such, but so do other church members. There are a lot of member-led groups within the church - there’s the Women’s Circles, which are small groups for women (my mom used to be in number 5, but there might be less now or something - don’t really know what it’s like now) which are like bible study and social groups. The Men of the Church are big, they do breakfasts and stuff. There’s a youth group, of course, which is led by members with some involvement from the pastors. Sunday School is run by members who volunteer to teach - the pastors will help you develop a lesson plan, but members are really in charge of that and work together to find good materials and such. If I wanted to (and I wasn’t a secular humanist agnostic) I could walk in next Sunday and say “I’m going to teach a Sunday School class on the Book of Job for the next four Sundays” and find an empty room and if people wanted to come they would. Some people do discussion-type classes like that out of their own heads, but a lot of people get materials and teach from those and everybody gets a “textbook”. My mom taught a series on “Unnamed Women of the Bible” for several months from a really interesting book once.

Anyway, in the Presbyterian church the laity does most of it.

Answering the OP:

Our Church Of England parish has 2 clergy and four formal services on the go of a Sunday morning - most of the ministry in the parish is led by lay people. This has been the story in all the Anglican churches I have been involved in over 30 odd years.

Over time, I have led services, preached, prayed, set up, tidied up, led communion (and been censured for doing so), and I will continue to do so. I haven’t baptised anyone, but if the situation arose, I would do so. I believe in the priesthood of all believers, so (in my mind) there is no distinction between lay-people and clergy, and thus there are no special roles in the church. And the more people that can be involved, the more distinctive and local the services will be.


Is “paid” an important criteria for you in clergy? If so, nevermind. We’re not organized enough to pay anyone. (Neopagan.)

But my religious community does recognize clergy and have a formal ordination ritual you can go through. It’s not the only path to clergy status, however. A self-ordination may be acceptable, although they often “encourage” their more formal process to those who sincerely feel they have a calling and have made Divine connection on their own. Either way, clergy are more often than not the ones called on to lead rituals, perform weddings and funerals, bless babies and that sort of thing.

But there’s no belief that we’re special and only we can do these things, just an acknowledgment that we’ve promised to do these things when asked and a recognition that we’ve been taught or taught ourselves the most common forms and functions to do so. Anyone can lead a ritual if they ask to ahead of time. Everyone is encouraged to host, participate, lead and learn as much as they want to. Everyone is encouraged to be as “out” in their daily life as they’re comfortable with, to invite people to those functions which are open to non-members, to teach workshops or seminars at conferences…

Some people say we’re a community of all priests and no congregants, but I don’t really buy that. We have congregants - people who have no interest in leading, but participate and show up every moon to join in. We have sheep - people who would rather sit back and absorb things than create things; people who are all response and no stimulus. We have “energy vampires” who actively suck time and energy from the group without giving anything in return. Some of them just need time to learn and acclimate before becoming more active and becoming leaders, and some are very happy never leading at all, just like in any church.

But a person is absolutely encouraged to and can definitely work quite actively at the things you mention: “bringing food to the sick, proselytizing, and anything else which somehow aids the visibility of your belief system in the world or is nice to your fellow man… giving sermons, reading scripture and otherwise giving the clergy a break,” without ever becoming clergy themselves.

Not really–it’s complicated. And the question in my head isn’t the one I typed. But really, what I’m interested in is how your community encourages people to be more than “pew potatos” without pushing ordination and quitting your day job.

This, and the snipped stuff which followed, is much more what I had in mind than was the stuff about how to be ordained. But I wanted to ask a broad question and it’s hard to know whether what is “normal” to me is normal to everyone else.


Yes, I thought so, but I thought it was also important to establish that we do have clergy. Clergy isn’t a requirement, and I’m not sure I’d consider a whole-laity organization, like, say, the Quakers, to be playing the same game we’re talking about. You can have church that’s all clergy, or church that’s all laity, or church that’s a mix. We’re a mix, much like the Methodists, is what I was trying to get at with those first two paragraphs.
And I love “pew potatoes” I may have to steal that. (Although we don’t have pews.)

“Pew potatoes” is not original to me, though I no longer remember the name of the person who coined it when giving her testimony in church one Sunday. And of course, it may well have been independently coined by other people, the parallels to couch potatoes being so obvious.

Jewish perspective: Rabbis are highly educated and knowledgable about religious law, but it is very clear that they do not have any special power or authority that the ordinary Jew does not. Theoretically any adult Jew should be capable of leading a worship service (though only in Orthodox circles is it common for religious education to be intensive enough to make this a reality). The exception is that you need to be a rabbi to perform a wedding, but this is an accomodation to US civil law and not a matter of religious law.

In practice, the further you move from Orthodoxy, the closer you tend to get to the model of paid professionals up on the podium leading the service and folks in the pews passively observing.

My own congregation is an exception to that rule; we are very liberal theologically, but we tend to divide up the responsibilities for leading services, partially because we like it that way but mainly because we can’t afford to have the rabbi in more than once a month. So some folks, including myself, take it upon themselves to lead services on a fairly regular basis, others more rarely, and most are petrified by the very thought. I think this is a good thing, as those who do take on the responsibility of leading or helping to lead services are impelled to increase their knowledge; since we lost our full-time rabbi some years ago, I would say the level of Jewish literacy in the congregation has risen considerably.

I’m a Quaker. We not only don’t have a lay ministry, we don’t have a professional ministry.