Pastoral And Lay Meaning Makers

We were chatting during break time at the lay leadership team retreat. He retired from his position as CEO in a mid-sized company two years ago and now serves
on the lay leadership team in his church. Insights from his executive career flooded back as we considered the leadership needed by this church from its lay and clergy leaders. From his point of view, pastors enjoy an unusual meaning-making opportunity every week. “When I was a CEO, I would have loved the opportunity to gather our company in a room each week, stand before them, and describe where we are going together. I’m amazed at how often pastors get the opportunity to guide, influence, and shape the understanding of who we are and what we are about. They get to do this every week. Leaders in other fields are jealous.”

Since then, I make it a point (especially when they complain about having to craft another sermon) to raise the awareness of clergy about the unusual meaning-making opportunity they enjoy. There are few leaders who are in such prime positions for shaping our understanding, perspectives, and attitudes toward our existence.

In this sense, a primary calling of those who preach and teach is to help us interpret life in light of the Way of Jesus. They are able to speak to the confluence of our personal lives, our corporate and public lives, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The way clergy frame or interpret these things is powerful, since it influences the very way we make meaning.

One fine example of meaning-making did not come from a pastor, but a lay leader who certainly was in tune with the Spirit. I was serving as a Renewal Pastor in a church who was crawling out from the rubble of their last devastating conflict. Nearly half the congregation left, including all the families with children below the sixth grade. At this point, the church was praying for that first family with young children who was courageous enough to join up with them. This particular Sunday, a family with a nine-month old child was in worship. Those serving in the nursery were delighted, welcoming the parents and child. Since I was fairly new to this church, I did not realize the wall between the sanctuary and nursery was so thin. During the silent prayer, this child found something unpleasant, wailing loudly. I heard some snickers, yet we tried to ignore the sounds, moving on with the service.

After worship, the lay leaders gathered for their monthly meeting. One gentleman, with a disgusted look on his face and irritation in his voice said, “Did you hear that baby crying during worship?” That’s when Ken stepped into the role of meaning-maker. “Yes I did (said slowly with great emphasis), and it was music to my ears.” Ken said this with a smile on his face and excitement in his voice. I watched the leaders around this table. After the first gentleman’s statement, they looked down with disappointed expressions. After Ken’s statement, they looked up, breaking into smiles and happy chatter.

How we interpret our experience is powerful. Ken was a meaning-maker for that church. “That was music to my ears.” This is one of the primary roles and functions of pastoral and lay leaders, making meaning, listening for the music of God’s movement among us. May God bless you as you join interpret life in light of the good news, helping us make meaning of our existence.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates