Recently I spent a day looking at houses with a realtor. Over the course of the afternoon, she took three phone calls from three different administrative assistants. They talked through the details of showings or listings for five different houses. When I said that “business must be good,” she replied that business is good but only because she has a lot of help. She expanded on that thought, “If I had to take every phone call, I would never be able to show houses, spend time with clients or close a deal. Without a team and a system, I would be the ceiling and my business wouldn’t be able to grow.”
That idea resonated with me because church leaders often are the ceiling. Carey Nieuwhof develops this theme in his new book, Lasting Impact. He states, “The greatest challenge churches need to address to pass the barrier of 200 people in worship attendance is that the pastor can no longer care for everyone.” Larger churches have systems in place where people other than the pastor are visiting, serving, and organizing care ministries.
It isn’t only pastoral care where pastors become the ceiling to the church. In all vibrant worship services, regardless of music style, preaching style, or anything else, there is one important similarity. With the exception of the sermon, almost everything important that happens in worship is done by laity.
Choir directors are lay people. Contemporary worship teams are full of lay people. Scripture readers are often lay people. Organists. Media teams. Greeters. Communion servers. Music directors. All laity.
Lay people are on the front lines of vital worship.
If we view our role as pastors in worship as planning, orchestrating, implementing and evaluating everything in our worship services, we will always feel stuck. Worse, we’ll be blocking the creativity and engagement in worship that God desires from all the people in our churches and communities. God has gifted the people in our churches. They are musicians, poets, interior decorators, graphic artists, stage managers, technology specialists, dramatists, painters, systems designers, and so much more. If we can create the space for them, they will bring their gifts to life in our worship.
The word liturgy means “the work of the people.”
In the early Methodist movement, circuit riders were not called to do everything every time the community gathered. They were called to empower the laity, the community, to have vibrant gatherings even when circuit riders were not there. In essence, the ministry of the circuit rider was to empower the people to do the work of the people.
We must regain our passion around equipping the laity to do the liturgy. Not liturgy in the boring, stale, read this prayer and say this psalm week after week, but liturgy in the rich, awe-inspiring, engaging acts of worship where our communities are empowered to share their voices and gifts. It is the shift from pastor as doer to pastor as visionary leader. From the pastor who gives all the answers and instructions to the pastor who leads powerful dialog about vision and direction.
How? What are some steps to move forward? Here are some powerful questions we can ask ourselves, and then use as a way to launch into conversation in our churches.
Who is in your congregation that you can mentor in worship?
What would it look like to share the direction for an upcoming message or series with a small, engaged group to brainstorm creative ideas?
How can you celebrate ways lay people are already contributing in ministry?
When could you include the gifts, talents and passions of the people in your congregation or community?
What does a culture of empowering laity in worship look like for your congregation?