Things for United Methodist laity to unlearn — from a layperson’s POV

Editor’s Note: Recently Sky Lowe McCracken, Paducah District Superintendent in the Memphis Annual Conference wrote about things that he believed that clergy needed to unlearn in order to restore the church to vitality. In response, Susan Sadler Engle, lay leader of the Paducah District wrote the following. 

Susan Sadler Engle, Lay Leader of the Paducah District of the Memphis Annual Conference

To all of my fellow laity: We have been highly critical of the clergy for a number of years now.  We have been very vocal about issues with those who serve our local congregations, many valid concerns, and some unrealistic demands.  Though the Church has been slow to respond to the frustration, in recent years there has been a move on the part of the leadership to look at education, pastoral care and the lack of vision that has disconnected the local church from the community.  The lack of discipleship in the local church is reaching critical mass, and the lack of leadership from the clergy is being discussed on every level.

That’s all great news, and important for a move to health and vitality.  It is just half of the picture.  It is time we do our own inventory and look at the things we need to unlearn.  This is my short list:

1.  While our church leaders, Pastor, church staff, are responsible to give vision, direction and guidance, they are not charged with keeping us happy.  We are equally called to service in the Body of Christ, not only to be served.  We are partner in ministry, not consumers.  The staff cannot fulfill their responsibilities in outreach to the community if they are forever holding our hands, listening to our laundry lists of complaints about temperature, sermon topic and new hymns we have never sung before.  It’s time we grow up, take responsibility for our own part of the Kingdom and go to work alongside our church leaders, as we are gifted and called to do.  We were ordained in our baptism after all, not to every role, but to a role.

2.  The church building does not belong to us; it is an asset for ministry.  Our functions are important, and fellowship as believers is essential, but they are not the sole purpose of the building.  Inviting the community to see the building as a great meeting place will connect us with people who would never cross the threshold for a Bible study or a worship service.  Groups who find a home in one of our classrooms may find a home in our church family, particularly if we happen to be in the building when they come and extend hospitality.  We cannot lock the doors during the week in order to keep the building in outstanding condition and the expenses down and think this is a good decision for the life of our church.   It will work for as long as we are here to pay the bills, then one day one of us will be the last one to turn out the light.

3.  Worship on Sunday is not entertainment, and we are not the audience.   Worship is a time for us to gather, hear God’s word, get filled up, and go in the power of the Spirit to change the world.   If you go home and nothing changes, in you or in your world, it’s time to stop and consider where you are disconnecting.    Where there is life, there is growth.  If all of your God stories are from years ago, it might be time to take your spiritual pulse.

4.  There are a lot more of us (laity) than there are of them (clergy).  Why did we ever decide sharing the Gospel was only for the ‘professionals’?   Who has the greatest opportunity to share the love of God with the community?  We do!  What is the best way to share your faith with others?  Live it, all the time, in all of the places you go.  Be the love of God the world is hungry for, offer grace and mercy, be the disciple you would like others to become. In football terminology, most plays work better if the team huddles up, hears the call and plays their position.  We like to huddle up, hear the call and go sit in the stand to see how it goes.  Let’s get on the field, people.

Real change, deep change, begins one person at a time.  We have to do the hard work of moving from consumer to partner, give up rights and pick up our responsibilities, desire that others develop deep relationships with Jesus Christ enough to surrender being the center of the church.  Growing up in grace means we are so secure in our identities as children of God and people of immeasurable worth that we can afford to sacrifice for the sake of others.  What will we get if we choose to be faithful?   I believe we will begin to see the God’s Kingdom come, and God’s will done.  That’s a legacy for our children and grandchildren that will be worth the discomfort change brings.  It’s time brothers and sisters; let’s be the change we are ready to see.

Susan Engle
Paducah District Lay Resource Leader
Memphis Conference

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Ok Preachers there is some truth here. The building is just that a building the body of belivers is the church and some minsters come in and what to change things to their vision. When minister is asked about visting a sick member of the church the head pastor says that not his responiblity (pretty sick). Then wants to hire his friends because they will listen to him (more sick) and then he is leading the flock its his way or the highway. His sermons are full of guilt because without the church (or the implied his flock) your pretty… Read more »


I appreciate this article and its concerns for discipleship, for living out our faith in the community, and for promoting a spirit of teamwork in ministry. Still, I believe to some extent the article perpetuates the divisive and hierarchical spirit it wishes to critique by misrepresenting the biblical idea of ‘church’ and the roles and responsibilities of its members. The Bible teaches that we are one body with many members where each member has his or her fitting place. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one… Read more »


AMEN!!! AMEN!!! AMEN!!! As a Pastor, I salute this article! LOL I just preached a message entitled, "It's Not About YOU!" that coincides with this so well! God has laid it on my heart recently about Revival! I've been taught for years to pray for revival and this week, it's as if God has said to me, "Son, you done praying yet? Ready to move?". It hit me like a ton of bricks! Once the Church gets to the realization that it's not about us and it's all about HIM, and we stop going to church EXPECTING TO RECEIVE and… Read more »


Very well said. The problems belong to all of us, those of us who are ordained and those who are laity. One of the constant cutting edges I see is the resistance to offering more than one worship service in small to medium size churches. We do not schedule worship services just so all the people we know and like can be in the same place at the same time each week. The more times our building is used, the more times we offer for worship-Bible Study or activities the more opportunities we have to connect our neighbors and families… Read more »

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