Great Stuff — Talking Sheep: The Role of the Laity in the Church

Found over on Bible Beer and Babies written by Vanessa Rasanen:

 

Talking-SheepI’ve never been known for my tact. I rarely say the right thing, and even when I do I usually say it in the completely wrong way. Perhaps it would be better to remedy this problem by keeping my trap shut and learning to be quiet, but instead I’m learning when to speak up and how. This is an important skill to develop, too, as it can benefit our jobs, our families, our communities, and even our church.

Yes, even our church, and even as laity.

We laity are a great asset to our church, though we may not always recognize that. This is perhaps more true for us in the Lutheran church, as we put a great deal of our focus on the office of the keys and the important role of our pastors. We love our pastors. We value them. And rightly so. They are the men called to deliver God’s Word to us, to speak the words of absolution to us, to serve us forgiveness and salvation in the Sacraments. They are the watchdogs for us sheep, the earthly protectors of our souls. Am I getting a bit too dramatic? Meh, too bad. Theirs is a vocation of the utmost importance, and we should revere them and thank them and value them.

But we mustn’t forget our own role here.

Our Role as Laity

We all know we are to listen, to learn, to be served God’s Word and Sacrament through the Divine Service as well as bible studies. At least I hope we all know that. But, we are not to sit idly by, either. We are not to simply listen and accept everything our pastors teach as inerrant truth. We are to test everything – even the words of our beloved pastors – against the Holy Word of God.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 Thess 5:19-21

Yes, our pastors are given to us by Christ, called by the Holy Spirit to serve and watch over us. They are also men. Sinners and saints like us, and though we’d like to believe they are immune to the temptations of the world, they simply aren’t. Clergy can, and do, drift away from God’s Word. But we sheep can help our shepherds, through prayer, of course, but also through our voices.

Not About Trivialities, Though

Though this should go without saying, I must make this painfully clear. This is not about griping and groaning about trivialities surrounding our shepherds. This isn’t about our disliking his style or his tone, his facial hair or lack thereof. (Ahem, I have no preference either way regarding facial hair, just so you know.) This has nothing to do with our emotions and whether we like how our pastor and church make us feel. This isn’t a matter of “that hymn should have been played on the organ not the piano” or “that sermon was far too long and my kids got restless… again”. This isn’t about merely airing grievances simply because we don’t particularly like our pastor as a person. Just because you wouldn’t want to share a beer with him doesn’t mean he’s a bad pastor and teaching error.

Whew. Glad we got that out of the way. So, what do we watch out for, then?

Basically, we have a responsibility to hold our clergy to the doctrine of Christ that they are to uphold and teach faithfully. If and when we feel they are drifting away or failing to serve, we must speak up. We are not at the mercy of whatever winds of false doctrine might blow our pastors off course. Though we may often feel that our only option is to pack up and move when false teaching moves in, this is not true. Choosing to silently stick it out does little good, either. Keeping quiet while ignoring the false teaching, accepting it simply as “just the way things are now” may be even worse than leaving, as it signals to your neighbors that we condone what is happening. We do our pastors and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ a great disservice and injustice if we don’t work to address concerns and issues. If we truly care for our pastors, we will use our voices and our prayers to urge them toward repentance when they err.

The Heterodoxy Among Us

We see this happening currently in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod as heterodoxy infiltrates our congregations. I know we laypeople are not blind. We see it happening. We see the message from the pulpits shifting away from Law and Gospel, away from Christ crucified. And it’s been happening for years. There’s the drifting away from biblical liturgy to embrace the feel-good, emotion-driven contemporary worship. There are pastors shluffing off their called office and passing their duties of delivering Word and Sacrament to lay leaders. There are congregations leaving behind plain, scriptural teaching to chase after growth and numbers. There are those, such as the Five Two network, urging us to focus on ourselves as the means by which God saves people rather than sticking with God’s Word and True Sacraments. From open communion to infant communion, well, there are some big problems among us.

We must remember, though, we are not helpless. Yes, we have faithful pastors among us speaking up and speaking out, trying to help their fellow clergy with loving correction, and for them we should be ever grateful for their tireless work. But we can help, and not just with prayers – though it is certainly one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, but with our voices. Have I said voices enough here? I’ll say it again. We need to speak up. And why? Because while our pastors can be reprimanded and disciplined for their speaking out, we are not so easily disregarded by ecclesiastical supervisors in our church body.

But I’m Just A Sheep

I know this is hard. We, after all, have not studied God’s Word as thoroughly as our pastors, and we may feel inadequate or incapable of speaking up or airing our concerns. But this is where technology is surely to our benefit. We are not limited in our resources. Don’t have a book of concord on hand? It’s online! Have a question about our confessions and scripture? We can ask! Even if we find ourselves in an area where pastor after pastor and congregation after congregation is veering away from our confessions and true doctrine, we have incredible access to faithful clergy and faithful teaching via the interwebs and good old phones. There are pastors available to help, to explain, to listen and to guide in how best to approach the situation.

Okay, so voices. We’ve got ‘em. Great. But now what? How do we speak up and to whom?

Obviously I don’t expect you to just start ranting and raving about this false teaching and that doctrinal concern just anywhere. Social media is a great tool, but this must start locally, and above all biblically. Yes, I’ll say it. Matthew 18 and the 8th Commandment. These get tossed around a lot, usually incorrectly and defensively, but that doesn’t mean we ignore them either. So where do we start when we have concerns? Simply put we start with our pastors. Ask questions. Always. A simple “I heard this in the sermon, am I understanding it correctly?” can go a long way. Then we talk to our church elders. We call the circuit visitor. We can call our district president or another leader at the synod office. We can even call the seminaries.

None of this does much good if we don’t know what scripture says, so we must study the confessions. Join other laity, locally or online, and discuss them. Learn them, know them. Learn about our synod and read the constitution. Again we should talk to our pastor and ask him questions. We don’t have to wait until we disagree with something he says, either. Pastors love discussing God’s Word, so encourage this by asking, asking, and asking some more. Above and beyond, over and under all of this – pray. Always. For our pastor, for our congregation, for the district, for the synod, for the whole of Christ’s church. Pray.

When we start to feel like we’re just a little ol’ nobody in a small town in the middle of nowhere at a tiny congregation who couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation, we must remember a vocal laity is nothing new to our church. Our very confessions were written, presented and defended by laymen. Philip Melancthon compiled and constructed the Augusburg Confession, though he was not clergy. He was like you and me, a regular ol’ sheep. Okay, so not quite like you and me, unless you are a professor of theology. But still, I think you get my point. He wasn’t clergy. He was laity.

And we laity? I think we have a great deal to say, if we’ll just step up and make ourselves heard.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Great Stuff — Talking Sheep: The Role of the Laity in the Church — 17 Comments

  1. Vanessa once again failed to mess up another great article:-)

    BTW, Norm. I’ve been known to throw back a cold “beer” every now and then. I’ve even made home brew before. But I’ve never been into “Beeps.” Ha – might want to check the typo on the link to Vanessa’s website.

  2. Norm, So much of your perspective is shared by all laity. Contemporary worship is beautiful when it encompasses repentance and forgiveness. Unfortunately, many pastors have lost their bearings in leading these services. Rev. Treglowan does a great job in Naples, Fl. The writings of CFW and the Augsburg docs were written in a time when our church was without a rudder for true worship.
    The priesthood of all believers is the doctrine we hold so very dear. We have made our pastors into gods. We need humble pastors who lead. Our pastor communes himself, he does not trust his elders. Matter of fact he has dissolved the elders and created lay leaders. Tell me if that isn’t arrogance? When pastors are present they should be leading in their roles. They should be creating pastors of their elders, who are his right hand in all things. Without laity the pastors are without a church. Ordination is not rite of passage to CEO, it is the rite that makes you a servant. Our seminaries teach pastors that they are Bishops (I know I have been there). As I grew up I witnessed our pastor visit at least once or twice a year. He eagerly joined my dad in repairing machinery or changing oil. He served his parishoners, and led them in the study of Holy Writ.
    I want to go back to the 50’s and 60’s again, when pastors were servants and laymen desired to be sheep.

  3. Just a reminder for all pastors (non-vets), to the veterans in our midst:

    This Tuesday, let us all say a prayer for and thank as many veterans and active duty servicemen and women we can find.

    My prayers will rise to the only God there is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    May these men and women who fought so bravely, or even if they were dragged kicking and screaming into a conflict by a draft, they went. Many of us have never been there.

  4. @Erich Abraham #2
    Pastors into gods?? Yes, some are arrogant and need a fellow brother or even a lay person to remind them, this is good. Yet, we do stand in for Christ, as if He is present in the Absolution of sins, etc.

    Nothing wrong with communing yourself. I do it at the end when all are served. I can finish the elements, this to many is good practice.

    I have no Elders, this has been discussed in the past (OK, a Deacon and he has no pastoral oversight, a team player under me). Now did he disband them because they are a rowdy bunch? Yes, if this was tradition in the Church, better be a good reason.

    Yes, ordination is a rite, very special; but I do agree, a pastor should not “lord over” their flock.

  5. From another vocal layman I must warn those who need to confront an errant Pastor that for my money these are some of the most bullheaded, often self absorbed people you will ever encounter. Make your argument cogent, Biblical and if possible refer to some respected authorities who agree with your position. It often occurs that no matter how lovingly you confront these folks you will be shunned. CG advocates are the very worst and have so rationalized their views that it is impossible to dislodge them. Don’t count on District Presidents either as they are often as guilty as the local Pastor of CG promotion, women serving communion, some even promoting women pastors and acceptance of homosexuality. Make no mistake about it we are in a Synod that no longer walks together and the closer to the head the more it stinks. We must ban together against these heterodox wolves and support the heck out of the solidly confessional ones. God will build His church, may our Synod be part of it.

  6. Good article, one thing I do in my bulletin to get more people involved in the Word, is a comment called: ask the pastor. If you do not understand a sermon, a reading, anything, ask. I have been getting some interesting questions. I say, no question is silly or dumb.

  7. I would like to mention something I read in our city’s Christian Newspaper. This white Southern Baptist church had a high educated Chinese lady who worked for the County as a social worker.

    She felt burdened for the poverty strickened Chinese she worked with. With her pastor’s permission she over the course of a year has gathered a group of 50 non Christian Chinese and the church has baptized most of them. She teaches them in a bible class under the authority of her church. Their stated goal is to get a Chinese pastor when they are able to afford it.

    Would this be ok in a Lutheran church? I was taught that the Great Commision belonged to everyone? It seems to me sometimes that our Lutheran churches discount lay people’s gift of Christian Service.

  8. @Erich Abraham #2
    I want to go back to the 50’s and 60’s again, when pastors were servants and laymen desired to be sheep.

    Too funny! In the 50’s we had a very German (born there; got here in the 30’s) “Herr Pastor”.
    The only “servant” in that household was his wife, (who didn’t speak in public, even in Ladies Aid, because he was there, too).

    There was grumbling but even so, the congregation prided itself on paying as well as any in the district. [It was needed; the parsonage was home to nine kids.]

  9. Storming Norman –

    I got the gist of your article. Good job. I suspect you greatly desire to respond to matters more often, since you read it all, but you pick your spots well.

    There is a symbiosis between the Pastor and his Flock.

    And BOTH need to understand, and practice their Scriptural and Confessional responsibilities.

    In healthy congregations, that is PRECISELY what you see.

    The rest?

    I shall reserve any judgment call on that. I have had two flocks that got it, and two that were clueless. I make no judgments. I am far past all of that.

    But the Church as a whole better get it. Right now . . . it does not.

    Pax – jb

  10. The “Priesthood of all Believers” as espoused by Martin Luther seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur and has been all but forgotten in most congregations. And who is to blame, as it seems there is plenty of blame to go around, as laypeople have become lazy and do not want to take an active role in the life of the church, while some pastors are on an ego trip building up their role to equal the old Roman priests prior to the reformation.

  11. @Jeff #7
    Of course this is OK, and well loved by our Lord. If you are getting the impression the lay are not valued for service, that is terrible on our part. But it does seem to be something that comes up, you are not the first to say that.

    In fact, Jesus wants us all to “go out” and share the Gospel. You are part of the team.

  12. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #12
    Wouldn’t what Jeff shared be an example of what Five Two is wanting to do, yet they just have to muck it up using their horrible use of sacramental language? Isn’t that their idea of starting new to reach new – intentionally reaching out to a demographic in the neighborhood who needs to hear the Gospel and doing that by reaching out to them in a specific way that is best for their culture or language (I would imagine to gather 50 non-Christian Chinese, you’d need ESL classes and such).

  13. @Erich Abraham #2

    Erich,

    Could you expound upon what you mean when you wrote, “When pastors are present they should be leading in their roles. They should be creating pastors of their elders, who are his right hand in all things.” In particular what you mean by creating pastors of their elders. In our system in the LC-MS individual pastors don’t select men within their congregations and raise them up to be pastors, instead they are to send such men to seminary and at the end of four years, that man and his family likely won’t end up back in the community from which they started. It seems that you are advocating for local pastors to select men that fit the criteria laid out in the Pastoral Epistles and then teach them and ordain them to do the work of a pastor in their community. Is that what you are saying, or is it something different?

    Peace in Christ,
    Andy

  14. @Andy Wrasman #13
    Not sure what you are asking? Yes, Jeff shared a good thing. Any Pastor that follows the command of the Lord Jesus to “tell the Good News”, is simply doing what He should be doing. If a Pastor does not go out to bring Salvation through Christ to the lost, then “give up the collar, now!”

    Of course, it is a balancing act, and we are sometimes not the greatest at sharing or communicating; or we have tasks and emergencies in the flock that need attention, or us with families, they do need attention. That is why we try to be part of the community we serve, to know them, know how to bring the Love of Christ, alongside the Salvation at the Cross.

    But you bring up a comment, “don’t muck up the language.” You are correct, don’t try and make God change His Word to match what people want to hear, this is no good.

    I think that is always the battle, culture wants to change God (cannot happen), God is outside of culture, yet inside and with His people.

    His Message never changes, certainly we can use “proper and good” wording to share that Message.

  15. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #15
    I think Jeff’s scenario is quite different from what you thought it was. I think you misread it. He wrote:

    “This white Southern Baptist church had a high educated Chinese lady who worked for the County as a social worker.

    She felt burdened for the poverty strickened Chinese she worked with. With her pastor’s permission she over the course of a year has gathered a group of 50 non Christian Chinese and the church has baptized most of them. She teaches them in a bible class under the authority of her church. Their stated goal is to get a Chinese pastor when they are able to afford it.

    Would this be ok in a Lutheran church? I was taught that the Great Commision belonged to everyone? It seems to me sometimes that our Lutheran churches discount lay people’s gift of Christian Service.”

  16. @Andy Wrasman #16
    OK, I reread, (and maybe I miss it), but here goes:

    01) She asked her Pastor to “reach out” and share Christ, she would be the one to do it. She speaks the language.

    02) She brought them back to Church, to be baptized.

    03) She has a Bible study with them.

    04) They want to plant a Church with a Pastor as the momentum forms.

    Sure, why cannot this be a Lutheran response? Of course, a Pastor will be in review of all, to make sure it passes proper teaching.

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