Here at YALT, we talk a lot about leadership…it’s in our name, after all. Many of the discussions we encourage about leadership training focus on pastors, either the education they receive in seminary or how we can improve their on-the-ground learning opportunities. In many ways this makes sense. Both the denomination and individual congregations have limited resources, and since through their training and leadership pastors influence large numbers of people, we get the biggest bang for our buck focusing on pastors. My denomination, the CRC also has a historical legacy of emphasizing the importance of pastoral education. But what about the lay leaders? Do they really matter?
Why ask this question? It’s the lay leaders who will remain in the congregation when the pastor moves on to another church. They’re the ones who provide pastoral care when there’s a death in the family, the ones who coordinate meals and donations when fire ravages a home, the ones who clean the kitchens and chair the committees. Every time synod rolls around, there are some who complain that synod rushes through deliberations and should go back to being two weeks long, while others note the lack of diversity among delegates (be it a dearth of women, people of color, young adults, etc.). Addressing those concerns hinges on our understanding of lay leadership and ability to equip individuals to serve in multiple environments.
For me, this question is important because in the approximately six years that I’ve been in lay leadership in my congregation, I’ve been offered essentially zero leadership training besides that which I had to personally seek out.
Some of this may simply be a matter of semantics. There are always webinars to watch, books to read, and conferences to attend that focus on different aspects of leadership. The annual Calvin Symposium on Worship, for example, does an excellent job of resourcing those charged with leading worship; I’ve attended it and found it helpful. One of YALT’s first major initiatives was hosting re:kindle, a summit designed to equip young adult leaders. Nonetheless, I struggle to recall a single instance when someone gave me constructive feedback on my leadership skills besides a generic “Yup, we think you can do this!” statement.
Those of us in the Kuyperian tradition talk frequently about “every square inch” and the importance of a faith lived out seven days of the week. However, we don’t always do a good job talking about the middle space of leadership, that place in between the pastor and the congregation where responsibility is real but unpaid and people hold jobs outside the church. When we ask those who aren’t church staff to participate in synodical study committees, or rely on lay men and women to serve as council members, have we explicitly communicated the nature and importance of those roles within the diverse breadth of kingdom work? If we believe in the priesthood of all believers, are we offering the specific training and mentoring that helps lay leaders fully bring their gifts to the service of their congregations and the denomination?
Young adults in particular are eager for mentoring relationships (as we’ve noted on Momentum here, here, and here), and I think such relational discipleship should be a key component of lay leader development. In my first year as a deacon I would have loved for a more experienced leader to come alongside me to explain my new responsibilities and help me develop an appropriate sense of calling to the role. As a 27 year old search committee chair who had never before chaired a committee, I would have loved to get some basic advice on people management and crafting a meeting agenda. Mentoring is something that doesn’t necessarily require a big program or financial commitment; it does require time and a willingness to be vulnerable.
The denomination’s work in studying the offices of elder and deacon (highlighted in this report headed for discussion at synod this summer) is a good start in clarifying what we mean when we ask individuals to serve in those roles, we need to find more and diverse ways to get helpful resources into the hands of local lay leaders. As a denomination and as congregations, we also need to be more intentional about equipping individuals to serve in a variety of roles, rather than just assuming people will automatically know what needs to be done.
If you’re a young adult, what kind of lay leadership training would you find helpful? Pastors, what kind of training/mentoring do you offer to lay leaders who serve with you?