Spotted an article, which I cannot seem to find today, that highlighted the need for clergy to stand up and take a stronger role in bringing about change to the methodist church. I couldn’t help but think, this is completely against the ethos of the methodist church. We were a movement that became a church off the commitment and energies of its laity. The laity in our church need to be the ones to stop showing up with a sense of entitled presence and need to be served. We need to commit to being the do’ers of our church.
The Pews are Not a Place for Spectators Anymore!
So how can the laity stand up and start to re-claim the church that was a movement? You can start here.
In the Wesleyan tradition, lay men and women who were mature and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ were the people called upon to lead the mandatory small groups known as “classes.” Wesley described the classes and the work of the class leader in the preface to the General Rules:
That it may the more easily be discerned whether they are indeed working out their own salvation, each society is divided into smaller companies, called classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are about twelve persons in a class, one of whom is styled the leader. It is his duty:
- To see each person in his class once a week at least, in order: to inquire how their souls prosper; to advise, reprove, comfort or exhort, as occasion may require; to receive what they are willing to give toward the relief of the preachers, church, and poor.
- To meet the ministers and the stewards of the society once a week, in order: to inform the minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved; to pay the stewards what they have received of their several classes in the week preceding.
We see from this job description that the class leaders worked as partners with the minister in the work of Christian formation and pastoral ministry. Their responsibility was to help the women and men of their class to become and to live in the world as followers of Jesus and his way of life. In many ways, class leaders functioned like coaches.
Good coaches are experienced practitioners of their craft. They love the game and those who play it. Over the years, through their experiences with other coaches, they learned how to encourage, challenge, push, admonish, correct, and form people into players who deny themselves and help the team to accomplish its goal of winning games — and even a championship. In the process of coaching, practicing, and playing the game, the players are drawn closer to one another and become more fully the persons God created them to be.
I am a baseball fan. It is no surprise to people who know me that I think a baseball team is a helpful metaphor for understanding the Wesleyan way of being a congregation. If you are not a baseball fan, please stay with me here. This is where the importance sharing pastoral power is realized.
A pastors ideally functions in many ways like the manager of a baseball team. He or she is responsible for leading and organizing the congregation so that it accomplishes its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The pastor is responsible for teaching the basic practices and beliefs of discipleship to the members of the congregation. Through preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments, pastors inspire and help congregation members to follow Jesus in the world. Like a baseball manager, the pastor is an essential leader whose job is to organize the congregation to live out its mission in the world.
However, like a manager, a pastor cannot do this work alone. He or she needs help. That’s why a manager counts on his coaches. The coaches work closely with position players and pitchers. They help them to perfect the basics of their position and the game. One of the coach’s essential jobs is to regularly remind the players to practice and be mindful of the basics. For when they attend to the basics, everything else follows. A team that attends to the basics of the game is likely to win games.
In the Wesleyan Methodist tradition, Class Leaders have historically filled the “coaching” role in the congregation. They are lay women and men who are seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ who are given pastoral responsibility for twelve to fifteen members of the congregation. In the early days of Methodism, the “class” of twelve to fifteen people met weekly with their leader. Today, the “class” does not need to meet. Rather, it serves as a pastoral division of the congregation for which a class leader is responsible. He or she is in regular contact through personal visits, phone calls, social media, and e-mail. The purpose of the regular contact is to help the “class” members practice the General Rule of Discipleship in their daily lives.
The class leaders, each of whom is a member of a Covenant Discipleship group, serve as discipleship coaches for the members of their class. They extend the General Rule of Discipleship into the congregation. Class leaders meet monthly with the pastor. The purpose of these meetings is for the pastor to give support, encouragement and training to the class leaders and for the class leaders to inform the pastor about what is happening in the congregation. This process of mutual support and accountability forms Christ-centered congregations that become outposts of God’s reign in the world.
Pastors and class leaders working as partners in Christian formation lead to vital congregations that are equipped to participate in Christ’s mission in the world.
I share this lovingly and as a Lay Person myself in the church. Often I have wondered if God’s plan for me was to be a clergy person (I have certainly had the encouragement to be one), but more times I see that we need our laity.
One of my spiritual mentors, Pastor Baxter (PB for short), once shared with me that his father wanted him to be in engineering. He said, ‘There was more need for Christians in engineering than there was for pastors.’ We can do the movement work as laity. We just have to re-tool ourselves and take some risky steps that we might not be used to.
I love the Class Leader concept because it takes away the institutions of Jesus and puts back in the relationships first. Not so thrilled with the ‘Class Leader’ or ‘Class Meeting’ as a name, but we can work on that later. Start doing something and we can name it something else in the future.