Methodist Church

Call for ‘clear guidelines’ on roles of laity and clergy

Mr Lawrence Ang, Chairman of the Local Church Executive Committee of Toa Payoh Chinese Methodist Church (centre, holding The Book of Discipline), making a point to his group members. – Methodist Message picture.


Laity are frontline troops and clergy support them: Bishop

LOCAL church leaders have called for “clear guidelines” on the respective roles of the laity and clergy.

They made these comments following a talk on “Lay Ministry and Leadership in the Church” by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon at the Methodist Centre on April 26, 2003.

He was hosting a lunch fellowship for the lay leaders and members of the Local Church Executive Committee from the three Annual Conferences as part of a series of meetings held every year to discuss issues with local church leaders.

In his talk, Bishop Dr Solomon pointed out that “99.5 per cent of the church is unordained”.

“If we are serious about the ministry of the church, then we must address the place of the laity in the ministry and life of the church as well as in the world,” he said.

Explaining the need for ordination, he said ordained ministry is primarily the ministry of word, sacrament and order. In Methodist theology, the ministry of word and order is not exclusively restricted to the ordained. Local preachers also have the authority to preach. Lay leaders share in the leadership of the church.

“However, the ministry of sacrament is specially assigned to the ordained. This functional difference is what separates ordained and non-ordained at the Lord’s table.”

Bishop Dr Solomon said that every Christian has a vocation, is a servant, has one or more spiritual gifts, is a priest – “But not every Christian is an ordained pastor” – and every Christian exercises his gifts and fulfils his vocation through mission and ministry in the church and in the world.

He said: “We must realise that the laity are the frontline troops and the clergy support them. The laity should be released to the world for ministry and mission.

“The ministry of the laity is in the world. They should be let loose rather than locked in a holy huddle. They can serve in places where clergy cannot go.”

He stressed that leaders in the church, whether clergy or lay, should have high standards in morality and lifestyles not because there should be two classes of spirituality but because they should be models.

Singspiration before Bishop Dr Solomon delivered his talk. – Methodist Message picture.

‘Prepare the young people for leadership positions’

“We should therefore put in leadership positions not only those who are successful in the world, but also those who are faithful to God, though not necessarily successful in the eyes of the world.”

Concluding, he told the lay leaders: “We should develop a concept of team and co-operation rather than one of competition and confrontation when we think of clergy and laity.”

There were lively exchanges during the group discussions and the plenary session after the talk.

A number of the leaders asked whether a pastor is supposed to be a CEO or a spiritual leader.

Mr Leong Kwok Thye, Chairman of the Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC) of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, said that some lay leaders do not know the role of the pastor, and very few know the role of the Pastor-Parish and Staff Relations Committee (PPSRC).

He called on these people to be “educated and informed” before they took on their responsibility as church leaders.

Mr Christopher Tay, Vice-Chairman of Pentecost Methodist Church, said there needs to be “very clear guidelines” on the roles of the laity and the clergy. “If we are clear about our respective roles, tension between pastors and lay leaders will be eased,” he said.

Mr Goh Say Pin, Lay Leader of Geylang Chinese Methodist Church, said that more and more church members feel that “it would be good to define clearly the lines of demarcation between the clergy and the lay people”. He added: “It’s good to draw the lines, so that we know, for example, that pastors should concentrate strictly on spiritual matters.”

The lay leader of Wesley Methodist Church, Mr Philip Ng, said members of the laity must identify their mission and be clear in their direction so that they could work together with the pastors for the common good of the church.

“While pastors can be more understanding and tolerant of the laity, lay leaders should also be less critical of the pastors and encourage them on.

“As Bishop Dr Solomon has said in his talk, we must have this team spirit to work together to glorify God. The Bishop has given us a very good insight into the work and leadership of the laity, and I am glad I came today.”

The lay leader of Covenant Community Methodist Church, Mr Tan Thuan Kok, said: “Pastors should study and focus on the spiritual aspect of the church and let the laity take care of the day-to-day operations.

“There is a lack of clarity and direction on the respective roles of the laity and the clergy,” he said.

Added Dr Patrick Kee, Associate Lay Leader of Trinity Annual Conference: “Lay leaders must give pastors more time to do their studies.” Dr Kee is also from Covenant Community Methodist Church.

Stating that there is a place for the laity in the church, he called on the Bishop’s Office to provide guidelines on the roles of the pastors and the LCEC.

Replying, Bishop Dr Solomon said: “This has to be worked out with the Conference Presidents, Boards of Ministry and the lay leaders.”

And in answer to several calls for pastors to be well prepared to provide spiritual guidance, Bishop Dr Solomon said Trinity Theological College does provide courses on spiritual leadership.

During the plenary session, Mr Ivan Tan, speaking on behalf of his discussion group, said some pastors might not be “very strong in preaching and teaching”, and his group wondered whether selection of candidates for training at Trinity Theological College could be more stringent.

Mr Tan, who is the Associate Lay Leader of Trinity Methodist Church, added that the group felt that there should be a “stronger emphasis” on the role of pastors as spiritual leaders, and less so on their management role.

The group also felt that there was a need to prepare the young people to get them into leadership positions.

“There is also the need for us to engage with the pastors. The laity needs to work with the pastors and understand the role of the pastors,” he said.