Transforming Congregations by Igniting the Spiritual Lives, Gifts
and Ministries of the Laity

Ron Farr Send E-mail to Ron Farr, Laity Empowerment Project
Telephone: (315) 583-5821

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Clergy Empowerment

 

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:

  • Laity become "spiritual colleagues" to clergy as laity claim their own daily life ministries

  • Activated laity, as they talk and pray about their own "cutting edge" faith issues, spiritually nourish clergy

  • Laity discern and affirm the unique gifts of their pastors

  • Laity and clergy share the leadership "load" of organizing and facilitating LEP groups and other small groups

  • Pastors 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 relationship.

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!

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