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How Do You Find Lay Worship Leaders From The Congregation?

Pity the poor clergy, going up into the pulpit to preach on a Sunday morning, and looking down at the motley crew that is their congregation. Presumably on a bad day we look to them something like the vision of Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) above or Hogarth (1697-1764) below? Both of these artists fixed on sleeping congregations, but the problem of sleep may be as much metaphorical as actual.

If we accept the argument of the previous two posts in this series, For the Want of a Nail (1) and The Best is the Enemy of the Good (2), it is a matter of urgency to identify potential lay worship leaders from this rather unprepossessing bunch. In case there is any doubt that this is a pressing problem,  ‘Church Ferret’  pointed out on 10 May that 40% of clergy (in England) are retiring in next 10 years. Mind you, our Lord must have faced a  problem in trying to find his 12 apostles. I am grateful to the Revd Pam Smith for her link to the imagined recruitment consultants who produced this report on his candidates:

…most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the “team” concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings…

Of course in the biblical accounts, we are not told of anyone refusing to become an apostle. Yet priest after priest has attested to the difficulty of persuading any of the congregation to take on the worship-leading role. What is clearly not comparable is the pent-up demand to become priests by women who, thank God, put themselves forward for ordination once they were allowed to do so. I think the Church must take some responsibility for the lack of impetus by the laity to take on this role: there is scant indication that the Church would welcome them. If the Church agrees that lay worship leaders may help to save the day, there needs to be a central policy. You will search in vain (at least I have) for any mention on the new Church of England website of lay worship leaders (or other local variant). It would help for a start to decide what they should be called!

So, if  congregations were made aware that people were wanted to lead worship (if deemed suitable – a sort of mini-BAP might be necessary, though until now selection has taken the form of recommendation by the clergy and PCC), they might begin to come forward. One of the problems may be that our formation as ‘ho laos’ -from Sunday School upwards- emphasises the story of Christianity, worship and leading a good life. In my life, anyway, there has been absolutely no emphasis in one-to-one situations, such as confirmation classes, on our role as individuals in the Body of Christ. I suspect this is less of a problem in the Episcopal Church, because of its recognition of the ministry of the laity and its practice of congregational repetition of their baptismal vows three or four times a year.

In my case, my recruitment was simple and, in retrospect, an example of the Holy Spirit at His sneakiest! Our benefice had an ‘awayday’ to consider future plans. Afterwards, we were asked to fill out a form saying what we were prepared to do for the church. Top of the list was brass-polishing (my least favourite job). Making the coffee (already plenty of competent people). Holy Dusters (hate housework). Churchyard working party (not my thing). Flowers (existing rota slots jealously guarded).Taking monthly services of Matins (the existing lay worship leader was moving to London, and without a replacement, this service would lapse). Eureka!

I signed up because there was a gap. I signed up because leading worship was the most attractive of the options on offer and I felt I should do something as part of the church community. I signed up pretty casually. I then started attending the ‘evening classes’. The sessions were typically Anglican – 8 different people spoke to us on aspects of worship, all saying something different on, for example, the thorny issue of lay people ‘preaching’ (we were not allowed to, but we still had to fill the sermon slot). But something happened in the course of these evenings, nevertheless. I found myself ‘surprised’ by God and being changed, inexorably. By the time the Bishop commissioned us at a service that was charged with the glory of God, I discovered I had a mission.

There is a saying: When baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse! Even if the selection process is as apparently haphazard as it was in my case, surely God can and will work with the material He is presented with, and we must allow Him space to do so. The congregation may appear to be sleeping, but this may be deceptive: perhaps they are just waiting for the call?

1. The top illustration is ‘A Sleepy Congregation’, by Thomas Rowlandson
2. The bottom illustration is ‘The Sleeping Congregation’ by William Hogarth.
Both are provided by wiki gallery under a creative commons licence.
3. In the next post, we will look at how the formation of ‘ho laos’ might be modified so people are more aware from childhood of the part they need to play in the Church as part of the Body of Christ.

3 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

It's an interesting concept, baiting a trap to trap people into becoming Lay Worship Leaders!

I'm rather more of the view that only encouragement from Clergy and affirmation from others in the congregation will overcome the 'reluctance and reserve' of the typical CofE member to become so deeply involved.

This is a leadership function, it is part of the role of Ordained Ministry not only to encourage others in their faith, but to identify those with the potential to develop in to these roles, not just those who have the time or who might have ulterior motives, such as building a power base within the community/congregation to take on these roles.

I am a great believer in periodically, re-taking baptism vows as part of a formal worship service. I actually believe that such re-affirmation can revitalize the faith of the many and remind them of their calling to be disciples of Christ. I quite like the RC Confirmation, which sends those confirmed out as 'soldiers of Christ', which might be considered a little OTT, but it reminds you that the fight is for the Kingdom and obedience to the call from God, through Jesus Christ to be 'High Priests' applies to everyone, not just to a select few.

On a practical level, I know to my own cost that when you feel a call, you actually doubt it very strongly, you resist it, the questions uppermost in your mind are 'Why Me Lord' with the obvious answer 'why not', but perhaps more pertinent, the very things you highlight, 'I am not worthy', 'I don't have the skills', 'I don't have the aptitude', 'I don't have the confidence' and so on. The resistance can be internal but fierce. Resistance can also come from close family members as they come to realise that their partner, spouse, father, mother, is making a commitment which will exclude them to some extent.

A further factor can be just plain apathy, where people are content to be there, unsung, unspoken, turning up, but not involved. There is strong evidence for this perhaps, by the increasing attendances at Cathedrals, where you are able to worship anonymously as part of a large congregation and where you can slip in and out without to many chances of being challenged to become a more committed community member.

So, perhaps it comes back to leadership from clergy and laity active in ministry, knowing and identifying those who they believe have the potential and encouraging them, over time to participate a little with perhaps serving, intercessions and welcome ministry, and allowing them some freedom and autonomy to develop in these roles before pushing them into the next step. Even participation in roles such as Deputy Church Warden or on the PCC all help to get people involved and comfortable before delivering the ultimate, an invitation to assist at leading worship on a practical basis, to see whether they like it, followed up with formal training, once it is clear that this is a ministry that they are able to cope with and can offer a commitment to.

The type of leadership necessary for this is a collaborative one, where the clergy are convinced of the need to empower everyone to discipleship and ultimately, service in ministry in a capacity which they are able to cope with to the Glory of God and the building of the Kingdom, here and now.

My view is that while many clergy are in this mould, some are not and perhaps the church needs to identify this during initial formation and ministry training to develop those collaborative leadership skills needed in Ordained Ministry these days. It should also be an essential ingredient of Lay Ministry training, so that they are also empowered to assist in identifying vocations and supporting other lay people in it.

Utopia would be every layperson, empowered and offering for service, that would be the Kingdom, truly come, here and now.

01 June 2011 05:38
Lay Anglicana said...

Lots to think about here –
– I don't think it was a deliberately baited trap. I think the vicar just sat down and made a list of what he needed, as you do for Father Christmas!
– I have not come across the general renewal of baptism vows in the CofE except as part of a baptismal service.
– Resistance and apathy are indeed two of the main obstacles to recruiting lay worship leaders.
– Encouragement by the clergy varies enormously from priest to priest in my experience also. Some find it very hard to share ministry, even though pressure of work and time may make it almost a necessity.
-I hope our shared vision is something less than Utopian, but I know I should be prepared for disappointment, as described by Saki in 'The Unbearable Bassington':
"She had built herself a castle of hopes, and it had not been a castle in Spain, but a structure well on the probably side of the Pyrenees. There had been a solid foundation on which to build…she sat down to think, and her thinking was beyond the relief of tears."

03 June 2011 07:47
Bury Man said...

My own view is that any reluctance on the part of the laity is more to do with the hurdles put in our way rather than fear or indifference.
In most congregations there are a certain number of percentage of people (20 %?)who are prepared to volunteer for leadership roles of any kind, and many are already doing much for the life of the Church. The same people are quite prepared to assume worship leadership but the thought of “training” does put-off busy people.
The situation is not helped by clergy and lay readers who, often unwittingly, are rather precious about their roles and the formation they have been through. I also sense that they think the laity know nothing about liturgy. It’s a bit like clergy thinking they know about preaching when it’s the laity who have had to sit through about 40 or 50x more sermons than the average preacher.
I don't have an answer, but my gut feel is that parishes will increasingly decide themselves to ignore the rules until just short of lay presidency. The congregation don't much care about bishop's licenses in long interregnums.

03 June 2011 08:21

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