I am struck today by Laurie Gudim’s essay at Speaking to the Soul regarding lay vs. ordained ministry. This is a topic close to my heart, as a layperson doing fulltime church work. Gudim writes:
I have to admit to feeling a surge of disappointment sometimes when some dedicated and faithful lay person discerns that they are called to ordained ministry. Everyone else will be greeting their decision with joy, and I will find myself a little on the edge, unable to fully celebrate with them.
I’ve done a lot of soul searching about this. Why do I feel as I do? What does it mean? Am I jealous? Full of petty resentment? Maybe I should be thinking of the priesthood myself?
The cause of my letdown, I have realized, is that I don’t like the conclusion we all leap to – that because someone is very serious about their spiritual life and desirous of dedicating their days to serving God, they need to become a priest. I wonder if they are not mistaking a call to love God with all their heart, soul and might for a call to become a pastor in a church. I know that often people are genuinely called to that more specific way of being in relationship with Christ and Christ’s church. When that is true, it is truly a cause for celebration. But so is any clear discernment of any calling. We ought to be celebrating each with equal verve.
Our job in this era is to redefine for ourselves what it means to be a lay person. The church as we know it may not survive through this century, and if it does, leadership will look different than it does now. And so we common folk need to put our elbows out and bring to words for ourselves and for the Body of Christ what it means to be an on-fire bunch of saints bearing witness and living into our gifts right along with our priests. That means all our gifts, since each one of us is called. We need to make places for ourselves that fit new found understandings of the need to put God first in our lives. There are no roles, so we need to do the arduous work of creating them.
I wrote on this topic myself a couple years ago. I feel absolutely no call to ordained ministry, but there are times when I think wearing a clerical collar would make my job easier. I don’t mean that clergy have easy jobs, of course. I certainly know better. It’s just that so many people tend to accept the Christian ministry and witness of clergy so much more readily than efforts at ministry by those who are not ordained. I would love to know what clergy and lay people think about how we can better define lay ministry in the church. I agree with Laurie Gudim that it bears re-examination. Your thoughts?