No matter the procedure your denomination and individual church has for choosing lay leaders, one things is critical to success: know your congregation.
Oh yes, you know who will be there most Sundays and who will attend midweek services. You know who bakes the best cakes and cooks the best roast. You know who will complain if the service is ten minutes too long. You know who writes thinly-veiled complaints about your personal or professional life on social media. You know who will say yes to every request, no matter how busy they are. You know who will send an encouraging note just when you need it.
But … do you KNOW your congregation?
Who wants to work with children but is afraid to volunteer because her grown child is an addict? Who is great at detailed record-keeping but would never offer to even assist the church clerk because the same person has done it for the 156-year life of the church? Who has event-planning skills but thinks they can’t please everybody so why try? Who has administrative skills that would be helpful in a number of areas, and doesn’t even realize it because getting five children to school and sports events and school and keeping them feed is just what you do? How many encouragers are working behind the scenes and could be even more impactful in the congregation if they coordinated efforts? Who is good at stretching money and should be on the finance committee? Who is gifted with hospitality and could serve as a greeter or a host for in-home small groups? Who loves spending time in prayer – alone and in small groups? Who spends hours a week digging into the scripture? Who let a microphone squeal at the worst time at another church and quit, but otherwise is great at audio-visual controls ?
Of course one person is not going to know all of these things about a congregation! That is part of why a pastor has a staff and/or deacons. You pool your knowledge. I also suggest two tools: spiritual gift surveys and mentoring.
Small groups are ideal for the spiritual gift surveys or they can be done at home. Everyone needs to know there are NO right and wrong answers. There are honest answers and I-wish-I-had-that answers. Any dishonesty becomes apparent soon after the person starts trying to use the particular gift. A person may have multiple gifts and many responsibilities at work and home. We must be careful to spread out the work. At times it can be helpful to have a maximum number of positions a person can hold. Some people are more likely to say yes if they know there is a limit to how much will be asked of them.
Mentoring is possibly one of the most helpful and least used tools to choose and train lay leaders. I understand some of the problems. We barely have enough people to fill positions, much less have someone “hanging out to learn how.” Mentors may be older or younger, physically and spiritually, than the person who is learning. The learner may also be mentoring someone else in another area of ministry. In the simplest form of mentoring, we work together to learn how to do different things. The process can be more formal with a time of assisting being required before the person leads, especially for teachers.
Above all, we must remember that we are each a part of the body of Christ, and he is the head of the church. We should serve him and each other in love.