One problem I tend to have with Unitarian ministers is the importance that they place on professional ministry. It’s not that I don’t appreciate ministers, it’s just that I’m not sure they’re all that.
A Unitarian minister, who I know slightly, was telling a group of us about the new choir in their congregation. In an ever slightly so patronising tone, the minister told us that the choir members felt that the music they provided was ‘their ministry to the congregation’. Ah, bless. Lay people who think they can do ministry.
I think the patronising tone was unintentional, but in any case, music has ministered to me more than any actual minister ever has. From my point of view, that choir can do more ministry for me, than their professional minister ever could.
Maybe ministers are not as important as they think
I’ve really got two things against ministers being gung-ho about professional ministry.
Firstly, I’m never quite convinced that they are acknowledging their own bias. I will admit that I’m not perfect in this respect either. But when called on it, I quite accept that part of the reason that I think that lay people leading worship is good, is simply because I am a lay person, and I enjoy leading worship.
Ministers stressing the importance of professional ministry within a congregation, always seems a bit in their own self-interest. I hope that the ministers I respect would acknowledge that they have some bias, or at the very least, there can be perceived bias.
Secondly, I think that in stressing the importance of professional ministry, it’s easy to miss the fact that without lay people, there can be no professional ministry. Congregations with ministers are more likely to grow and attract new members. But, those new members aren’t going to stay if the only person worth talking to is the minister.
Contribution of lay people
Lay people pay almost all of the bills – even our current investments were generally originally donated by lay people. In worship, it is the gathered worshipping congregation, not the service leader, who create the worship.
Lay people are almost exclusively the religious educators of our children. (Unitarian children’s education mostly takes place at the same time as the Sunday service.)
Lay people provide most of the organisational and administrative power of every congregation, and district association, as well as the national denomination.
Aside from congregational leadership roles, lay people are usually at least as qualified (if not more so) to take on professional roles as Unitarians – partly because ministerial training does not particularly equip ministers for non-congregational roles.
I guess I’m lay inclined
Should I ever get married or have a baby, I wouldn’t want the minister in my congregation to think they were entitled to lead the appropriate rite of passage. I’d actually prefer to have a service led by a bunch of people – who might be lay people or ministers – probably coordinated by an order of service. I’m more than comfortable with choosing and defining my own services and rituals. (If it was my funeral, I wouldn’t care, because I would be dead.)
And, at this stage I’ve been attending my congregation for more than 3 years. I’ve heard a lot about what my minister thinks on various topics. I’d like to know how the guy that I always discuss and disagree with thinks about things – I think that will be inspirational.
It’s helpful to have a professional minister in your congregation, because it’s really helpful to have someone who can dedicate themselves full time to the congregation. And it’s good to have someone that’s been vetted by the national denomination – assuming that the Interview Panel do their job reasonably well.
It’s good to have someone who can help a gathered group create good worship. It’s good to have people to provide pastoral care. It’s essential to have someone with vision. I just don’t think that professional ministers are the only people who can provide these things.
But then, I’m biased. I’m lay.