In the mid 1980’s I was invited to be the ministerial leadership for the Uniting Church of Australia in Frankston, Victoria. This congregation taught me a great deal about the church as community.
The first worship service focused on the welcoming to the new pastor. It was held on a Friday evening so that other clergy in the area could participate, but the largest part of evening was led by the laity. The lay leadership accompanied me down the center aisle of the sanctuary and asked me to stand in front of the altar. As the service began they came, one by one, presenting symbols of the leadership roles they were giving me permission to assume in their congregation. The first person came down the aisle carrying the Bible, handed it to me and said, “Help us to understand the full meaning of this book as a guide in our lives.” Another brought a bowl of water and told me the congregation was giving me permission to baptize their children and adults as a symbol of being incorporated into the church community. The third presentation to me was the bread and wine giving me permission to serve their congregation with the elements symbolizing the life and death of Jesus, the Christ.
Finally, a member of the congregation thanked me for my willingness to become a part of the leadership of that congregation and asked me to share with them my dreams for the future ministry of their congregation to the community and to the world.
My reflections on that process of lay leadership participating as equal partners in the leadership of a congregation became a significant part of my understanding of the role of clergy. One of my most important tasks was to enable the laity to embrace the importance of their leadership roles and to do all in my power to train and affirm that understanding. One of the ways I implemented this understanding was acted out when I was a District Superintendent in the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. In that role one hears from many congregations that they wish they had been sent a more effective pastor. I reminded those lay persons that all clergy in the Methodist Church had to be recommended for the clergy role by the laity of the local churches, and their responsibility was to encourage and support the best and the brightest to consider ordained ministry as a life-long task. Several years later a young United Methodist pastor shared with me that he had been at a meeting at his childhood church when I spoke about this, and that it was the encouragement given to him by his congregation that led him to pursue ordination and the pastoral role in the local church.
Clergy, set upon a pedestal is not ministry. Laity left off the hook of their leadership capabilities is a waste.
T. Mark Dove