Laity speaker says clergy can’t do it all

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Laity speaker says clergy can’t do it all

June 8, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0684}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The task of transforming The United Methodist Church does not rest solely in the hands of clergy. It should be a shared goal between both clergy and laity.

Laity are partners with clergy in the church's efforts to transform the world. Lyn Powell, lay leader of the North Georgia Conference and lay speaker at the 2008 General Conference, delivered that message June 6 to lay members of the conference attending the laity session at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0586.

That’s the message Lyn Powell delivered June 6 at the laity session of the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event in Lakeland.

Each year while clergy are focusing on matters pertaining to their ministry, laity hold their own session to celebrate and discuss ways to strengthen the work they do. Almost 900 lay members registered for this year’s conference event.

Powell, lay leader of the North Georgia Conference and lay speaker at the 2008 General Conference, spoke about the role of laity and how it can be lived out today. She cited statistics pointing to the health of The United Methodist Church — 70,000 members lost in 2006 and 60,000 in 2005, with the church losing members every year since the 1970s. She says those facts can’t be overlooked, but they also don’t make much sense to her, considering the large numbers of unchurched and underchurched people living in neighborhoods surrounding United Methodist churches. Powell reported that 45 percent of churches did not report having a profession of faith last year, yet an estimated 80 percent of people said they do not have a meaningful connection to a church.

Powell offered a reason for that reality, referencing the popular phrase ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us,’ which is attributed to Pogo, a character featured in a daily comic strip of the same name that was popular from 1948 to 1975. She said church members are sometimes their own adversaries. “We have the answers to our questions, and they are us,” she added.

The solution is not a new one, according to Powell, but can be found in the example of Paul’s ministry. He preached the Good News to anyone who would listen — Greeks, Jews, slaves. He then went on to plant house churches and later teach deacons, what the church now calls preachers, to lead the church. Those deacons did not carry on the ministry themselves, but equipped the laity to help.

“They did such a good job that Christianity is alive and well,” Powell said. “Only laity on fire for Jesus Christ could do that.”

Powell gave a glimpse of what the church could be, sharing an example from the fictional book “Gilead,” set in the 1800s, in which a group of about 300 Methodists are camping by a river. They are singing so passionately entire communities run to join the Methodists.

“It wasn’t 300 ordained pastors,” she said. “It takes lay, equipped by pastors, to lead entire communities to Christ.”

In keeping with the “From Generation to Generation” annual conference event theme, lay members attending the June 6 clergy session of the 2007 conference event included to a greater degree than ever before younger and older members considering together their role in the life of the church. Photo by Caryl Kelley.

Powell noted that the Rev. Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Bible study leader for the conference, has said a community must look at the church and see itself or the church will begin to decline. Powell added that church members must be active in the community and not wait for the community to come to it if it wants to survive. She said the church began to decline when laity began distancing themselves from the opportunity of offering Christ to the world, laying that task at the feet of clergy.

“How did we get to the place where we sit back and receive ministry from clergy?” she asked.

Powell mentioned knowing of a church with 85 percent of its members attending simply because someone invited them to worship. Some of those invitations were intentional, some the result of chance encounters laity experience on a regular basis. Powell said capitalizing on those moments are crucial because they are the times lives can potentially be transformed. That, she said, can only happen when laity invite others to church.

Powell said laity must also have a vested interest in a ministry of the church and offered the example of one church that asks each member to commit him- or herself each year to an outreach ministry of the church, including creating new ministries that reach a targeted section of the community.

Powell ended her comments by quoting the Rev. Billy Graham, who once said The United Methodist Church, with its structure and dynamics, is one vehicle that could change the world. She called Florida Conference laity to partner with clergy so the transformation of the world can be realized.

After Powell’s address, Florida Conference Lay Leader Bill Walker shared two tasks he plans to address in the coming year — to more clearly identify the roles of lay leaders and create a more collaborative effort between clergy and laity in ministry.

Additional highlights

* Laity received a brief overview of the General and Southeastern Jurisdictional (SEJ) Conference elections.

* Mary Alice Massey, former conference lay leader, spoke about the importance of General Conference in shaping the life of The United Methodist Church and the SEJ Conference in electing bishops of the church.

* Mickey Wilson, conference treasurer, provided details about the proposed 2008 budget — the total budget is slightly more than $17.3 million, more than $1.1 million or 6.1 percent less than the 2007 budget and $1.9 million less than the $19.2 million 2006 budget; and nearly half of the 2008 budget, 45.3 percent, is targeted for “Total Connectional Church” ministry, a $7.87 million figure set by the General Council on Finance and Administration and the amount the Florida Conference is apportioned toward the overall denominational budget. For 2008, that number represents an increase of 5.2 percent over the 2007 amount.

Members of the youth/young adult delegation attending the 2007 conference event took their role seriously. Carlene Fogle-Miller, a member of the delegation from the conference’s East Central District, asked during the laity session how more youth can be represented on the conference Board of Lay Ministry. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0588.

Jason Weakley, a 24-year-old member from Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Margate, said the laity session was informative. The lifelong United Methodist said he is looking forward to participating in his first annual conference event.

“I’m excited to be taking back ideas to my church,” he said. “I thought being a delegate was a one-week thing and now I know it’s a year-long process. It’s all new, and I’m excited to be here, just taking things hour by hour.”

John “Jad” Denmark, a delegate and newly-elected young adult nominee to General Conference from the Gulf Central District, said he is also excited about his first annual conference experience. He said he found Powell’s presentation especially inspiring.

“I liked the overall tone of laity gaining back the power,” he said. “It’s where we have lost our emphasis.”

Denmark said he is equally pleased with the emphasis on youth and young adult participation during the conference event.

“Youth and young adults are important and key to the future of The United Methodist Church,” he said. “It’s encouraging to hear the leadership realize the importance of our voice.”

Additional articles about news and events taking place at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event will be posted to e-Review during and after the conference. The conference is also being web cast so those not able to attend may view the sessions online from their home computer. Individuals interested in accessing the webcast may go to the Florida Conference Web site at and click on the webcast link.


This article relates to Lay Ministry and 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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