Freeing Laity for Ministry

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How many members does your church have? Do you tend to think first of what those members need (hospital visits, sermons, childcare, parking, Bible studies, etc.) or the impact that number of passionate believers could have on your community? We tend to count pastors or staff when we calculate our capacity for ministry. It’s time to tap into the potential of laity. When you do, you discover the true power to change your community and the world.

It’s time to tap into the potential of laity. When you do, you discover the true power to change your community and the world.

One Hour a Week

At our church, each member is asked to serve one hour a week in the community. One hour is a small enough commitment that most people can accomplish it, but it really becomes powerful when multiplied across a congregation. The impact is tremendous.

My church has 575 members. If each one gives one hour of service each week, our church is pouring 575 hours into the community. That’s the equivalent of 14 full time staff people, serving our local area, every week! The smallest of churches could give the equivalent of a full time staff member to their community through service hours.

Look for Gifts

For years I was oblivious to what many church members did in the “real” world. Then, quite by accident, I learned that the man who sat quietly at the back of the church each week was an Adjunct Professor of Public Speaking at Harvard. I had been looking for a communication coach, only to find one in my congregation, willing to help for free.

Laity have incredible skills that God would love to use to build the kingdom. It’s the leader’s job to know what they are. Consider making “occupation” part of the new member form, take note of gifts and skills you pick up in conversations, and ask staff and lay leaders about gifted people they know. Keep a running list on your phone, computer, or church database of skills and areas of interest so at nominations time, you are not taking a shot in the dark, but are involving people God has already gifted and called.

Trust Them

Give laity real authority. For me, this has meant giving my lay speakers the pulpit, and not just when I’m away. New voices broaden the perspective and communicate volumes to those who listen about their role in church.

Trust also means a willingness to try things laity suggest. One year, the Finance Team wanted to have a contest with a prize to encourage prompt return of pledge cards. I was skeptical, but that year, our budget was ready in November instead of January. Our Trustees have developed an improved parking plan. The youth planned their first mission trip. Outreach asked us to give away a major worship service’s offering. All have been beautiful successes. Trust God’s ability to speak to people, and support them as they try new things.

Encourage

Spend some time telling members how proud you are of them so you can encourage what you want to see more of. Before the offering each week, I list one thing their gifts of time or resources have made possible. I also speak well of them in small groups and beyond the church walls. You’ll find when you focus on the positive, you are more hopeful, and they are encouraged to be more of what is best.

Make time for personal encouragement, too. Set aside 30 minutes each week to call, text, email, or write an encouraging note to someone who is leading well. Tell them that you are praying for them. And remind them that it’s only together that we’ll change the world.


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About Author

Laura Heikes is pastor of Bee Creek United Methodist Church in Spicewood, Texas. She participated in the Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s Lewis Fellows leadership development program for young clergy in 2008-2009.


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