Seeking Laity

CTC We start this year’s Annual Conference this coming Sunday, June 7.  This year, for the first time in a long, long, time, the Central Texas Annual Conference will meet in a church, not in a convention center.  We will not have assigned seats with name placards.

We will attend a Texas Ranger’s baseball game together Monday night.

Annual Conference sessions are designed to be very evenly divided between clergy and laity.  The purpose is to balance the leadership between the clergy and the laity of the church.

This will be my 15th consecutive meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference to attend, my 22nd overall (I began my ministry in the Texas Conference).

Most of the laity are selected by local churches, usually at the suggestion or nomination of the Pastor.

Pastors are, it seems, from one of two schools of thought on selecting laity for representation at Annual Conference:

1.  In the interest of involving as many laity as possible, and giving them an opportunity to experience this level of church work, some clergy nominate different laity each year.

2. In the interest of developing particular and specific leadership on the laity “side of the aisle,” some clergy seek to involve particular individuals over as many consecutive years as possible.

This decision is not made entirely by clergy, however. My mom, for instance, used to serve as a Lay Member of Annual Conference for her church.  After a few years of doing so, she opted not to return the next year so that another member of her congregation could go.

Here’s my take.  I’ve been a clergy member for almost 2 decades.  I’ve got another 2 decades.  There are many clergy who have been active far longer than I have already.

It seems to me that if the revolving door of lay leadership turns much faster than that of clergy, the laity are likely not to gain an equal share of power, influence, and leadership in the Annual Conference.

This means the Annual Conference remains, ultimately, clergy-run. I am concerned that this means our ability as an Annual Conference to change and adapt as necessary to changing times, populations, and cultural shifts may be seriously lacking.

There is a move afoot in the United Methodist Church to attract and recruit young clergy.  We are also making effort s to attract younger members  – or laity.

What are  we going to do about giving them a large stake in the leadership of the Church?

11 thoughts on “Seeking Laity

  1. Well said. This year more than ever, it has been evident to me that I have no voting power. I guess we need to start encouraging those young laity to ask to be delegates at Annual Conference – or even suggest that for churches with more than one delegate, one delegate needs to be under the age of 35. This may allow for more professional staff to attend with a vote too.

  2. Steve, we have a bigger problem. Laity cannot ever achieve a high level of leadership as long as our polity is stuck in the first half of the 19th century. As long as appointments are annual, the laity cannot help “shape” pastors and they cannot have real input into Annual Conference until the professionals stop offering only one option at conference. There are some churches that have become high commitment, and large enough that they can simply insist that they retain their clergy leadership. By so doing there is a much better chance that a real partnership can exist between the laity and clergy. It is my feeling that having an expectation that laity will be in ministry will strengthen lay leadership at Annual Conference because they will begin to insist the AC focus more on ministry and less on maintenance. When we become a risk taking church, then laity can lead…

    • Amen! Couldn’t have said it better myself. I might add, that as long as it is mostly clergy-led, too much focus is likely to remain on pensions and other benefits….

  3. I don’t think AC attendance tenure is the only way to compare the two groups. Some other differences I see:
    – Some clergy come to AC with a different attitude than others. Instead of being primarily a serious time to conduct business, it is a time to visit, network, and fellowship. Some laity, for whom church is not a job (especially those who have to take off time from work) take the meetings more seriously.
    – In our setting given the distance of travel to AC and the timing of the gathering, if we want our lay rep to be able to attend, we are very limited in who we can choose. We can’t choose people still in HS, because school is still in session. We can’t choose people who work in schools for the same reason. We tend to pick people who are retired and have plenty of resources to travel.
    – While tenure gives power, it also leads to sclerotic thinking. We need less sclerosis.
    – The more we can find ways of doing church that move away from the bureaucratic the better.

    • Can this sour grapes, but the Texas Conference doesn’t want to include youth. They disbanded CCYM several years ago and have yet to re-instate it. They don’t want youth at AC, but they don’t really want to involve them in the Conference in any other way, either.

      And, in agreement with you, the last thing we need more of is sclerosis.

  4. Interesting perspectives. I especially find it interesting that while the original intent of moving Methodist clergy very often (more often than is typical today) was to keep churches from looking to clergy to do everything, the opposite effect seems now in place.

    • Frequent clergy moving was a frontier notion that worked well in a culture that was experiencing new growth and that expected persons to stay where they were planted (after the first settlers that is). Why that would work in an aging culture that moves frequently and no longer has large families or strong ties to extended family is beyond me.

      I’m convinced longer pastoral appointments will encourage laity involvement.

      • I am also considering writing some Resolution to next year’s AC that states that our AC will strongly consider at the 2011 AC electing at least 1 youth and young adult as delegates to General Conference.

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