Laity Empowerment empowers
clergy as well as laity. How? Clergy who participate in LEP courses
find that their relationships with the people of their congregation
become more real and supportive and spiritually nourishing. This
occurs as laity create “safe” environments for clergy to share more
genuinely their own dreams and growing edges, and as laity actively
unleash their own gifts and ministries and find words to express the
cutting edges of their spiritual lives.
It is a dream come true
for clergy who happily find themselves sharing a deeper spiritual
partnership with many in their congregation. LEP courses minister to
clergy by accomplishing the following:
become "spiritual colleagues" to clergy as laity claim their own daily
Activated laity, as they talk and pray about their own "cutting edge"
faith issues, spiritually nourish clergy
discern and affirm the unique gifts of their pastors
and clergy share the leadership "load" of organizing and facilitating
LEP groups and other small groups
receive LEP training on small group facilitation and retreat leadership
that they may not have received in seminary.
Clergy sometimes question why
they should be on the leadership teams of LEP courses. They understandably
ask, "If laity empowerment is about the laity being empowered, why should
the clergy be involved in leading it? Shouldn't the laity take charge of
it themselves? Aren't the clergy already doing too much?" Although this
question rightly affirms the importance of laity empowering laity, its
logic falls short as we realize that 1) the clergy are not separate from
the laity but together with them make up one body, the "laos" ("the whole
people of God"), and 2) the problem of clergy burn-out and isolation
cannot truly be addressed until clergy and laity work out a new kind of
Laity empowerment is about
creating a new kind of community in local churches in which laity and
clergy together form a "community of ministers." In this new community,
people are nurtured in the Biblical vision that views every person as a
"minister" of Christ, with unique God-given gifts and daily life
ministries as important to God as the gifts and ministries of the pastor.
People learn to see themselves and all their companions in the church in
this heightened way which eventually creates relationships of support and
equality between laity and laity, and between clergy and laity.
As laity (through LEP groups)
become excited about their everyday ministries, come alive in their faith,
and discover how immensely important to God their "ordinary" gifts are,
clergy gain new "colleagues in ministry." How many clergy suffer from
spiritual loneliness because they don't find true spiritual colleagues in
the ordinary members of their congregation? How many clergy, when seeking
spiritual nourishment, inevitably feel they must "escape" from their
churches to a clergy gathering, a retreat center, or a place where they
cannot be easily reached? Is this what Christ intended? Surely not!
Many clergy, it seems, simply
do not have the expectation that their personal spiritual lives will be
nourished or spurred on to any great extent by the laity they serve.
Clergy get exhausted from ceaselessly taking care of church members as the
"only" identified "minister" in the congregation. Laity empowerment starts
to reverse all of this. Laity nourish their clergy companions as they
share with the clergy the excitement, dreams, even the struggles of their
own ministries and spiritual lives. Laity empowerment generates a
community of laity and clergy in which all are exploring what is inspiring
them, what is troubling them, how God is working in their lives, and what
their next steps in faith and ministry might be. All this discussion,
prayer, and spiritual vitality profoundly nourishes the clergy and
effectively eliminates their need to flee from their churches to find
basic spiritual nourishment.
A laity empowerment process
involves a great deal of individual affirmation and group gift
discernment. Group participants regularly name the gifts and ministries
they see in each other. Clergy, of course, are included in this process.
This means that the laity lovingly name the gifts and unique ministries
they appreciate in their pastor, as they do for EVERY member in the group.
How often do clergy experience this kind of sensitive, affectionate gift
discernment from the laity? How often do pastors experience the members of
their congregation looking past the romanticized, stereotyped role of
"pastor" and actually seeing and affirming the true person and gifts of
their pastor? This is wonderfully empowering for clergy!
In perhaps most churches,
when a spiritually empowering group or course is offered, it is usually
organized and led by the clergy. This is what is expected of the pastor.
What a relief and joy it is for clergy suddenly to share the leadership
load of recruiting, preparing and facilitating such groups with energized
lay leaders who have been equally equipped!
It is true, however, that
some clergy fear the empowerment of the laity. They worry about their
position in the church or the value of their ministry being undermined.
The opposite is what actually occurs. Clergy participating in laity
empowerment are unexpectedly affirmed by laity in ways that they have
never been affirmed before! This happens, however, NOT by the laity
becoming little "volunteers" or "assistants" to the pastor's ministry at
the church. Rather, laity are encouraged to claim and carry out their own
unique ministries (in daily life or church), yet at the same time offer
support to all the other lay and clergy ministers of the church. All this
ministry activity and mutual support among everyone in the church is
exciting, synergistic and empowering!
Just as some clergy may at
first be a little apprehensive about laity empowerment, this is also true
of great numbers of laity. It often scares laity to take their spiritual
life and their God-given gifts as seriously as they do their pastor's.
Traditional church culture unconsciously indoctrinates laity to elevate
the pastors gifts and spirituality, and denigrate their own. To consider
themselves as "ministers of Christ" with gifts and daily life ministries
as important (in God's eyes) as the pastor's can really unnerve and
disturb some laity. Some will question and even withdraw from a laity
empowerment process because they feel the process undermines or threatens
the importance and work of the pastors they love!
Now if clergy are at the
forefront of a laity empowerment process (as part of a LEP leadership
team), their presence gives strong reassurance and encouragement to timid
laity to go ahead and experiment with this more mutual and bold way of
approaching their faith. When members of a LEP group observe their
leadership team (made up of laity and clergy) in action, facilitating
equally, sharing in power and spiritual leadership, showing love and
respect to each other, the members of the group are powerfully influenced
by this modeling of mutuality. However, once a laity empowerment process
is established in a local church and becomes part of the church's identity
and "culture," pastors no longer need to be at the forefront. Lay teams
then work quite well. Very large churches, of course, must start, right
from the beginning, with multiple lay leadership teams, since it is
impossible for the clergy to be present in so many groups. Clergy in large
churches must find other ways to be vocal proponents of the process.
Finally, clergy are often not
given any training in seminary on how to be sensitive small group
facilitators or retreat leaders. They are not equipped in the art of
asking questions, being good listeners, creating an environment of
emotional safety and prayer, or running poignant spiritual exercises or
Bible studies that naturally and non-coercively draw out the spiritual
depths of each person. Many clergy are naturally quite good at this, and
learn just from experience and trial and error. Laity Empowerment courses,
however, which all come with leadership training, can serve as a kind of
helpful, "in-house," continuing education opportunity for clergy, helping
them to sharpen their skills at spiritual group facilitation.
Though the Laity Empowerment
Project seems by its name to empower only the spiritual lives, gifts, and
ministries of the laity, it actually provides a catalytic program that is
deeply nourishing to clergy spiritually, and profoundly supports their
vocational dreams of local church transformation!