Nurturing Spiritual Lay Leadership

Do you invite your lay leadership to lead spiritually? I’m not just talking organizationally around some kind of project, but leading spiritually? The way most established churches are structured the spiritual leadership for a congregation is relegated predominately to the professional, the highly trained expert who dispenses knowledge to others. To make this shift is necessary and important for the formation of our lay people because it not only instills in them a sense of confidence they can lead in these ways, but also the professional’s trust in the Spirit’s leadership in and through them. To remain present while lay leaders facilitate spiritual conversations can be a challenge for some who want to swoop in and correct language or concepts. It is about learning a new language, and sometimes learning a new language takes a willingness to allow those formulating it to do so on their terms, and in their ways, not ours. The gifts of what emerges can literally be beautiful music to the ears of the gospel where, in conversation over Scripture around the Spirit of the living Christ, the kingdom of God comes near.

Recently, I was able to observe Sarah, a 30-something lay leader from a local church engage the Dwelling in the Word practice. The formative promise this opportunity offered for Sarah to facilitate a conversation in Scripture cannot be under appreciated. This experience is the delicate seed under the hidden surface from which spiritual lay leaders spring.

On Sunday I met with this church council to discuss their continued work in the LL process. In preparation for the gathering I zoomed in (video conference) with the executive team to get feedback on their upcoming council retreat. Following the meeting I sent them an email with the process agenda, as well as request to see if someone would lead Dwelling in the Word. Sarah stepped up, and replied she’d give it a go. Now keep in mind Sarah has never led anything like this before, in fact she has only engaged in Dwelling herself a couple times. And yet, she stepped up to the opportunity with openness, and the courage to take a risk.

This was no small thing for Sarah, nor for any of our lay leaders. It is quite an intimidating thing to lead a structured engagement around Scripture in front of peers, and others more knowledgable about the practice. But the point wasn’t to have the most knowledgeable one lead, but to share leadership. It was to open up space for someone else to step in, and to try on this spiritual leadership.

Sarah led beautifully, carefully and intentionally. Sure she looked down to her notes, and, frankly, she admitting to us all that she was nervous. In a conversation afterward she described her professional life as an early childhood educator, and that she is a trained coach. But for some reason, she shared, leading this took her out of her comfort zone. She went on to say, “I know I can lead at work, but coming to do this with the council felt very different.” I tried to get inside this difference by following up with some questions. I came away understanding that she elevates spiritual leadership above and differently from her professional leadership. For she said, “this is about matters of FAITH. I don’t want to get it wrong.”

What happened in this opportunity? What kind of trust was placed in Sarah to lead? What was it Sarah was leading? Sarah displayed a willingness to engage in adaptive learning. What was the challenge to be learning? To facilitate a process of Scripture in front of her pastor, and other church members. This was not a quick devotion where prior preparation created more of a controlled and predictable situation for herself. This leadership involved facilitating others in a shared conversation. This simple, not so simple, process caused her to slow down, to pay attention differently, and to think more intentionally than she normally would. It is precisely this disruption in the normal pattern of things where God is already up to something, and where new possibilities for nurturing lay leadership is being given.

Perhaps you also know of stories like Sarah’s. I’d love to hear them.

Peace on your journey.

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