At our recent Annual Conference, I got to sit through a presentation about laity empowerment. There were two approaches. One sought to empower the laity to perform acts of service. The other sought to empower the laity through various rounds of education and experience to eventually become pseudo-clergy.
What was Wesley’s view of the lay preacher?
It was in 1747 that the qualifications of lay preachers were set down in this wise:
“Q. How shall we try those who believe they are moved by the Holy Ghost and called of God to preach
1. Do they know in whom they have believed Have they the love of God in their hearts And are they holy in all manner of conversation
2. Have they gifts (as well as grace) for the work? Have they (in some tolerable degree) a clear, sound understanding? Have they a right judgment in the things of God Have they a just conception of the salvation by faith? And has God given them any degree of utterance — do they speak justly, readily, clearly?
3. Have they success — do they not only so speak as generally either to convince or affect the hearts “
Currently, laity may serve as a “lay preacher” in various means.
- Lay Servant
- Lay Speaker
- Licensed Pastor
Frankly, I don’t know if I got everything because they seem to change every quadrennium.
The requirements for the ministry of the laity is much more than what Wesley included. I am torn. I do not want uneducated laity presiding over even band meetings, but I do not want laity so educated that they are but a hair’s breadth away from clergy and thus aren’t really laity anymore.
Empowering laity could be a useful tool. There is more than working in a soup kitchen or resell store. There is more than preaching. This should be about preaching the Gospel in a non-pastoral/administrative way… i.e., spiritual formation.
What is your experience? How would you empower laity? Can and should laity be involved in spiritual formation (i.e., discipleship)? Can they do so without having to eventually decide if they want to be a pastor of sorts?
The real question is this: If The United Methodist Church wants to experience a revival, shouldn’t we turn to the past to see how they did it?
They did it via laity.