Lay Leaders + Spiritual Infrastructure

In his recent book The Upswing, Robert Putnam writes that “technological advances and corporatization have fundamentally changed the way people relate to each other: an entirely profit-driven economy that fails to look out for its workers and instead pits people against each other in a scramble for resources. Meanwhile, community hubs that allowed people to come together—churches, sports leagues, book clubs, neighborhood organizations and more—have dwindled in membership, leaving people seeking these connections in different places.” 

Indeed. The infrastructure of all of our lives has been dramatically tested because of the pandemic, and in many ways, its fragility has been exposed. One example: the deep conflict about in-person public education exposes the way our current system betrays working parents, leaves educators in the line of fire, and ultimately fails our most vulnerable students. That issue is the one that’s closest to my daily experience – and you have your own: health care, immigration, racial equity, and more. There is holy work to do here in the way of Jesus, friends. This is a moment in which spiritual infrastructure is crucial to our lives moving forward. If you believe the way of Jesus calls us to seek out Beloved Community, then this moment cries out for  the healing and community of relationships, care, ritual, and play that faith communities provide.

So it’s a brave thing when people step up to help lead the struggling non-profit known as their church. It’s brave and vulnerable to step into the kind of messy work of praying, discerning, visioning, and budgeting that is demanded of vestry and bishop’s committee leaders. Those meetings take time and care and sometimes extraordinary forbearance. They demand that people have hope, not just that we ‘return to normal,’ but that the Holy Spirit is able to do something new and beautiful in the midst of our current situation, however broken it may be.

The description quoted above, from the Sacred Design Lab’s recent newsletter, captures why lay leadership in our congregations is so crucial right now: The infrastructure of our lives, including our faith communities, is part of what we need to heal not just from the damage of COVID but from the fragility it revealed. They go on to write, “This fracturing and rearranging is overwhelming, leaving some institutional leaders upset or feeling shame. However, they’re also an opportunity for transformation, an opportunity to reimagine how our organizations can meet the needs of the people they serve. …. Infrastructural changes can mean disruption, a shift from the ordinary ways of looking at things, but they also allow opportunity for new possibilities to flourish.” That connects, for me, to what Bishop Loya wrote in his message to ECMN this past week: “There is nothing so broken that it cannot be mended, and there is nothing so dead that it cannot be restored to God’s glorious, unending life.”

If you’re a lay person who’s holding leadership right now as the boat is being tossed by the storm, as the faith community or program you serve is facing difficult circumstances, thank you.

If you’re a lay person stepping into new leadership right now, seeking courage and clarity on behalf of God’s work, thank you.

No matter whether the ministry you’re doing is on the vestry, on the building committee, in finance, Sunday School, music, Safe Church, administration, food pantry, communications, or justice work – the best grounding practice for any kind of ministry is to take time to notice where you’re seeing the Holy Spirit at work. Doing this both as an individual and with the team you serve is a key grounding practice of discipleship — believing that this ministry is itself holy, and not just a stepping stone required for something else holy that someone else is doing. And then treating it like a key part of your spiritual practice, trusting that God is showing up where you are serving.

And, some things can make the lift a little easier: being connected to others doing similar work, having the key knowledge or skills you need, knowing where to go for help. Lay Leadership Day, this Saturday on zoom, is an opportunity to come together with other leaders to build some relationships, gain some useful skills (particularly for new vestry / Bishop’s Committee leaders), and get connected to resources for support and wisdom from across ECMN. I hope you’ll join us. The ministry on your plate is holy, and despite the heavy lift, I believe that we are serving this church at a time of opportunity for profound transformation. What might God do with us if we are brave enough to say yes?

BONUS: At Lay Leadership Day 2021, we shared this page of key resources for lay leaders. Check it out!