Increasing Lay Participation

      It seems endemic in church life today to have one of two problems:  a. lack of lay leadership; b. lack of pastoral leadership.  Some churches may even have both.  As pastors, we have to face up to  our own lack of leadership.  We can't blame that on anyone else, even though most of us were never trained to be leaders.  There's plenty of information out there to build leadership skills, as well as  strategies for improving our skills on an ongoing basis.  Maybe some of us didn't figure leadership into our set of job skills, but only a year into your first year in ministry will disabuse you of any notions that we're only called to love our people.  We are called to lead them as well.  Some pastors are afraid to really lead because of the criticism their ideas have brought, but without pastoral leadership, most churches will experience decline. 

      And what of our laity?  What kind of lay leadership are you looking for? Are you clear about what you are expecting from your elected officers?  Most of the laity we've worked with report confusion and occasionally even dissatisfaction with the leadership opportunities at church.  They often feel that opportunities in ministry are too limited and even menial, and  in decision making they're only expected to rubber stamp someone else's ideas.  On the other side, many pastors feel they cannot count on their lay leadership to follow through with their commitments.  How do we avoid this kind of conundrum?

      Let's take an event like we considered last blog:  the annual men/women's retreat.  In the case illustrated, the pastor had made all the decisions.  Then a few weeks out from the event, the pastor asked the people to take on some of the support tasks of leadership. This strategy is certainly better than the pastor making all the decisions AND doing everything him/herself.  But their is an alternative.  It requires time, risk, and letting go.  A good outcome may not always occur.  Yet even with these drawbacks, it is the only way to secure meaningful lay leadership.

      One year out from the event, the pastor draws together a planning team of no less than six and no more than 15 people to plan the upcoming men's/women's retreat.  The pastor leads a discussion on what good topics might be.  Consideration is given to what kind of topics women/men are interested in today, and what the desired outcome is for the retreat itself (reach newcomers, deepen discipleship or spirituality, promote fellowship, etc.) Drawing from TV, movies, books, magazines, what are the issues for the population you are trying to reach?  If it's young fathers, what do they face? If it's working women, what are their issues?  The pastor's role is to keep the discussion lively, on target, and comprehensive.  Guide the group into the focus of a single topic, for example, the importance of relationships, or making time for oneself, or the changing role of fatherhood.  This should take about 15-20 minutes.  To take longer than that will only derail the group into a philosophical discussion about modern life and its complexity.  One should communicate to the planning group ahead of time to come prepared with what each one believes to be the most important issue facing the target group today. Allow the Spirit to work among you to quickly build a consensus on the topic.  Hopefully the lay leadership will take this process to a decision on their own, but if not, the pastor should guide the group into what s/he believes is the best topic.

     The pastor then leads a discussion about the topic chosen based on his/her own experience.  If it's relationships, then what issues are faced by men/women today?  Intimacy?  Time?  Work demands?  Children? Fear of rejection?  You get the idea.  Let the Spirit lead the conversation into deep and meaningful waters.  If anyone doesn't participate, draw them out.  That's how this works to build investment, passion, interest and surface the best leaders. This conversation should take 45 minutes of your 1 1/2 hour meeting. You have 25-30 minutes remaining. 

      Step three is to review your budget, and then brainstorm possible speakers.  Make sure the suggestions are realistic and possible.  Guide the conversation to settle on 1-3 possibilities.  Decide who will contact the possible speaker(s), and in what order if the first choice is not available.  Adjourn the meeting with the next meeting date to be after a speaker has been secured. Set deadlines, and offer to help however needed.  Either the pastor or a selected Committee Chair should follow up to make sure a speaker is committed before the next meeting.

Next week:  Steps 4-6