David Pressgrove: Taking on the ‘laity myth’: There is no ‘just’ in your title
March 19, 2010
I'm opening with a scene from a video I saw the other day.
A man on a hike came upon a woman trapped under a tree. The woman begs for his help but the man claims, "I'm not an EMT or a lumberjack; I'm just an accountant. I'm sorry I can't help."
The woman said, "Can you pray for me?" The man said: "Well I'm a Christian, but I'm not a priest or a reverend. I just go to church on Sundays."
Then a bear came upon the couple and the man said: "I'm not a veterinarian or a zoologist. I wasn't even a Boy Scout. I'm just an accountant on a hike."
The video ends with the sound of the bear burping.
The word "just" can tell a lot about a person's opinion of who they are and what they do.
We live in a society that assigns value to titles and position. We tend to use "just" when we aren't necessarily very high up that value chain. This can take place anywhere, regardless of who we are and where we are in life. Today, I want to address this idea among the laity of a church.
Eugene Peterson addresses this idea in his book "The Jesus Way" in a section titled, "The Laity Myth." He writes, "I have a particular interest in getting the ear of the so-called laity — the nonprofessionals, the amateurs, the 'mere' Christians, the members of the Christian community who say, 'I'm just a layperson.'"
Peterson goes on to plead, "I want Christian men and women to carry the designation layperson boldly into the workplace and marketplace, home and church, without deference, without apology. … There are no experts in the company of Jesus."
The "Jesus way" was to take people who were "just fisherman" or "just women" or "just tax collectors" and transform them. The game plan was simple. Jesus employs them to "follow me" (he does so 19 times in the Gospels).
My hope is to encourage the Christian community to shed the "laity myth." There are local footsteps to follow.
Peggy Bomba could have said, "I'm just one woman." Instead she was convinced that God wanted her to go to the Public Safety Center and start a knitting ministry in the jail.
There are no "professionals" in charge of Love INC. It is a group of volunteers who are stepping out to make a difference in the lives of people in the community. Providing furniture, coats and car clinics are just a sample of how they don't prescribe to the laity myth.
I'm pretty sure one doesn't have to go to a seminary to start up a free meal program. The people who are organizing the meals for the community at St. Michael Catholic Church certainly don't prescribe to the idea that they "just" provide two meals a week.
There is a point in Jesus' ministry where he starts to hand off responsibility to those who chose to follow him. The most referenced example is Matthew 28:19's Great Commission. But it's more than just "making disciples" as mentioned in the commission, but also stepping out of the comfort of the boat as Peter did (Matthew 14:28).
In closing, my prayer is that more people can adopt Jim Hancock's idea in his book, "How to Volunteer Like a Pro."
"Don't quit your day job so you can really work with kids. Resist the notion that real youth work is done by professionals. That's never been the case, and it will never be the case — real youth work is done by people who show up in kids' lives: old, young and middle-aged; male and female; cool and geeky; trained and untrained. Sure there's much to learn, and yes, we get better the more we practice, but the central requirements are presence and compassion."
He writes to those volunteering in youth ministry, but "youth work" can easily be replaced with any other opportunity. They are out there. Don't know of one? Give me a call, I'm always in need of committee members or youth leaders in Young Life. How's that for a shameless plug?