Letter from Conference Lay Leader: Focus on Laity Leadership

As we move into this season of church and charge conferences, there are congregations that welcome this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate what a year of successes and eagerly plan for the future. However, far too many of our churches reluctantly enter this season, seeing it as a struggle to come to grips with a year of failures past and a questionable year to come.

“Our church could do so much better, if only the Bishop would send us a better pastor!” After more than two decades serving the United Methodist Church, I have encountered this concern more than that of any other. Even the absolute best pastors offer no guarantee that his or her presence will be the sole remedy for a marginal or struggling church!

Time and time again, I have seen pastors who seemingly “failed” at one church move on to another congregation and helped to turn a dying church into a thriving congregation. Conversely, I have witnessed formerly successful pastors totally flop at a new church!

During my career in the military, I stressed to those under me the importance of NOT designating a “most important person” in an organization…and this includes the church! Whether it is the pastor, lay leader, or even the music director, every part of the Body of Christ is of critical value. The scriptures remind us of the unity of the Body and the value of its various components. We, the Church, have need in every part…lay, as well as clergy! And, I portend that any church that fails to understand this simple fact will not reach its full potential.

Pssst…. Just in case you are wondering, there are, indeed, pastors who say, “I could do so much better, if only the Bishop would send me to a better church!”

Our pastors (as wells district superintendents and bishops) bring with them the components of preaching and teaching the Word, providing pastoral care and counsel, administering the sacraments, and ordering the life of the church for service in mission and ministry. The ministry of the laity is the work of mission or ministry to which each believer is called. As Christians we are all called to this ministry or priesthood – not just clergy. Each of us has a responsibility to proclaim the Good News and reach out to others in love.

To that end, I challenge all of our churches to create or expand opportunities for laity of all ages to train for and function in roles of leadership and service in worship, discipleship, Christian formation, administration, evangelism, and ministry. I am certain that EVERY congregation has a wealth of untapped gifts and graces that are just waiting for the opportunity to make a difference!

Accordingly, the Lay Leadership Team of the Rio Texas Board of Laity has adopted a 2017 focus of helping to equip, empower, and challenge our laity to be more proactive and effective as true disciples of Jesus Christ…and not merely “church-goers”. It is our vision that, through the opportunities that we’ll present to the laity, every church in the Rio Texas Annual Conference will be much better prepared to face the 2017 church/charge conference season with celebration and hope! 

This letter was written by Ralph Thompson, Lay Leader for the Rio Texas Conference