Midweek Message: "Thoughts on Lay Leadership in the Church"

Week of Baptism of Our Lord

Dear Friends in Christ:

With our Annual Congregational Meeting soon upon us, we will elect new members of our Congregation Council. Then a newly configured Council will elect from its ranks a new Council President. The Nominating Committee of Council members going off Council has struggled to surface a sufficient number of willing nominees to replace them. Perhaps it’s the pandemic in which all of our routines are upended, but the challenge of finding new leaders for our Council is of concern to me.

Vital, robust congregations have a large team of active and effective lay leaders. Despite the pandemic inhibiting my full view of the congregation as a whole, it is abundantly clear to me that Resurrection Church is blessed to have a large number of gifted leaders. We have members who are leaders in their own professions who can then bring these gifts to bear on our congregational life. But it is also clear to me that our members are busy professionals who are stretched thin by their responsibilities at work and at home. It is also true that many of our congregational leaders have been at their stations in our life together sometimes for decades. And many of them are tired and may long for fresh faces to step up to the plate.

I’ve been around the block enough times in the church in my own various capacities to know that what we face as a congregation is common among most congregations these days. In fact, I was involved in a consulting process with one of the largest and most vibrant congregations in the Pittsburgh area, the cream of our congregational crop – and the refrain I heard even there was that “the same few people end up doing most of the work most of the time!”

I’ve also been around the block enough to know that church-related business meetings can tend to be wearisome. Notably, there were the faculty meetings when I was a seminary professor. I used to quip that I loved dearly each of my faculty colleagues, but put us together in the same room and the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Then there were the synod staff meetings – which sometimes ran all day – when I was a Bishop’s Assistant. We inevitably surrendered our time and energy to the most difficult congregations and pastors who probably did not require that degree and extent of our attention.

You all likely have similar meeting experiences at work and with other organizations to which you belong. Why on earth would you want to volunteer to have the same kind of wearisome experiences at church business meetings when you long for church to be a place of oasis from all of that “business as usual”?

Hence the reluctance, perhaps, on the part of some gifted leaders to step up to the plate to serve! It’s quite understandable, and I’ve been there myself at many points in my varied career calls as a pastor. It’s also true during this season of pandemic when we cannot meet in person that we are all on the verge of being “Zoomed Out.”

Yes, leadership in the church with its needed organizational meetings should not be “business as usual,” replicating what we see in other organizations. To be sure, the church as a non-profit organization needs to attend to and cross the t’s and dot the i’s of its institutional realities. And careful attention to administrative needs is holy work. As I am fond of saying, it’s not just that the devil is in the details, God is in the details, too. Moreover, again as I am fond of saying, “Good administration is good pastoral care,” ways of showing love for God’s people by taking seriously our organizational life together.

My vision for administrative meetings in the church is that each and every one of them should provide occasions for meaningful spiritual enrichment so that leaders can go home fed and nourished even when they’ve expended time and energy on the more mundane but essential aspects of our life together. So, the challenge and opportunity for us is to consider how we can craft meeting agendas at Resurrection Church to provide occasions for nourishment in ways that are contextually appropriate and attractive to this particular community of faith.

In my experience, it takes a good deal of discipline to craft the kind meetings that are life-giving. Moreover, these efforts are often met with resistance – “we don’t have time for all of that fluffy stuff,” I’ve heard again and again. But it’s also been my experience consistently that it is worth the effort to nurture life-giving meetings. More often than not, again in my experience, we tend to do the business part of the meeting more quickly and efficiently once we have been fed spiritually.

To engage this kind of effort is, I believe, an antidote to tedious church business meetings. It’s also an avenue toward generating a greater willingness on the part of new potential leaders to step forward and up to the plate. They may be more willing to do so if they can be confident that they will be fed by the experience.

I want to leave you with this thought concerning call, vocation. This is for all of you, but perhaps especially for those who have been approached to possibly serve in leadership capacities in the church. My favorite definition of call is from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian writer. He says, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.” (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p. 95) So I invite you to identify those things that bring such deep gladness to you and then to consider where in the church, at Resurrection Church, and where in the world, your gifts of gladness can be deployed. God knows that these challenging days of crises in our nation call for glad, gifted leaders in both church and world. I’d love to talk with you more about all of this, one on one, or in small groups, especially if you sense the stirrings of God’s call to you.

May God in Christ in the power of the Spirit lead us in nurturing a churchly culture of ongoing leadership formation for the sake of the ministry and mission entrusted to us for the healing of the nations, for such a time as this.

Prayerfully in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman