s I reflect on the many ministry courses I took in college and seminary, I realize most focused upon the clergy responsibilities of preaching, teaching, and administration.
Few courses focused on the role of pastors in lay education and discipleship. Those areas of ministry were assumed to be the responsibility of Sunday school teachers or small group leaders, who hopefully utilized a denominationally approved curriculum. As I emerged from academia to pastoral ministry, I discovered the importance of being personally involved in lay education and discipleship. It was an eye-opening experience which led to a new appreciation for the need for intentional lay education.
Lay Education: Need and Opportunity
Dean Blevins, professor of discipleship at Nazarene Theological Seminary, writes about the critical importance of pastors accepting their responsibility for educating (discipling) laity in the local church: “Discipleship is necessary to maintain a biblically, theologically, educated laity in the Church of the Nazarene . . . [A]ny ambivalence toward educating the laity reveals an equal ambivalence toward the discipleship of all Christians . . . As ministers, we must accept our mandate to disciple everyone, because the people of God need discipling to be the body of Christ. Failure here lets down the entire body of Christ, not just the laity . . . An informed laity sustains movements, resists temptations both outside the church and within, reforms, renews, and transforms the people of God into a force for the Kingdom of God” (holinesstoday.org/educating-the-laity-the-crucial-needfor-discipleship).
Dr. Blevins notes that throughout history, a well-educated laity has preserved the movement of God and has been at the forefront of evangelism and church planting. Given the challenges of the current culture and our mission to make Christlike disciples in the nations, the Church desperately needs a well-educated laity.
On the USA/Canada Region, there are over 615,000 lay members in the Church of the Nazarene. According to Scripture and Wesleyan theology, each one of them is a minister of the gospel, regardless of their vocation. While many may not have official responsibilities on Sunday, all of them communicate their understanding of the gospel and of holiness every day to their coworkers, neighbors, and families. What would happen within our congregations if each of them were educated and mobilized for the Church, as God intended them to be?
Finding and Utilizing Resources
Women and men in our pews are hungry for a deeper understanding of God’s will for their lives—one that helps them make sense of this complex culture. They desire to be a vital part of God’s mission. What they need is the affirming support of the pastor and resourcing from the church.
Lay Education Begins with Relationship
Duke University professor L. Gregory Jones writes of his experience with influential lay people in an article entitled, “Asking More of Laypeople”: “[L]ay people yearn for deep relationships with Christian leaders. We can nurture that relationship by entering the worlds where laypeople live, think, and work–not seeing them primarily as church volunteers and funders” (faithandleadership.com/l-gregoryjones-
My father was a master of the art of pastoral presence. He spent hours each week with key lay leaders of the churches he pastored. He sat and drank coffee with businessmen at the local café. He helped farmers harvest their crops. He visited the businesses where church members or potential members worked.
As a child I wondered how drinking coffee, helping farmers with the harvest, and visiting businesses had anything to do with building the kingdom of God. However, the wisdom of his ministry efforts eventually became apparent. Through his presence, he earned trust and the right to ask questions about their lives and priorities.
As a result, even oppositional members of the board became partners in the mission of the church. Other lay members began to hunger for more of God’s direction, entered the course of study, and stepped up to lead an outreach ministry. Only God knows the number of barriers that were overcome simply listened to their concerns.
Current popular culture drains the schedule. It is when crisis comes that we survey our surroundings and change our priorities. The best opportunity for education comes as a result of being present during these crisis moments. With adults, personal crisis moments are not always self-evident. They happen at significant moments of change—both positive and negative. Whether a child’s baptism or the death of a family member, the Holy Spirit can utilize transitions to guide us into rethinking our priorities.
The second element that pastors commonly struggle with in the area of lay education is patience.
The Wisdom of the Farmer
Growing up in Colorado, I became acquainted with a number of farmers. Regardless of the crop they were harvesting, they all had to learn patience. The process is always the same: preparing the soil, planting the seed, fertilizing, watering, and protecting the growing plant. All of this took place over the months of spring, summer, and fall. I overheard a table of seasoned farmers talking with a new farmer about the difficult spring theywere experiencing.
The new farmer was concerned that the unseasonal weather would destroy a promising crop. He believed he needed to change crops immediately and therefore rescue the season.
The older farmers offered some sage advice: Don’t plow up your planted fields. Give it more time, and the crops will come in. They were right.
Pastors can be like that young farmer. They get anxious, because they don’t see the immediate growth in their congregations or in individuals, so they move on to something else.
That is a mistake. We must give time for the fruit of our labors to emerge. Every time we change our approach, we communicate that what we were doing before was not valuable or was a failure. However, more often than not, we don’t give the idea opportunity to take root and grow to maturity.
Pastors, like farmers, need patience with the process. Some laity will engage at a deeper level of ministry education when they experience personal need. Others will spring to life when the Holy Spirit prompts them with a need they see in someone around them. As pastors, we need to remember that God will be faithful if we are patient. We know from church history that the education of laity is crucial to the life and future of the Church. A well-educated laity helps to maintain the momentum experienced in times of revival and renewal. We also know that the personal priority that a pastorleader places on lay education has a profound impact upon the effectiveness of a local congregation in carrying out the mission of the Church. Given the mission of the Church of the Nazarene, let us give lay education the attention it deserves.