Who is to be ministering in the church? Is it the “job” of one person who is hired by the church? Is it accomplished by a team of professionals? Or is it the responsibility of everyone who calls themselves a Christian and part of the body of Christ?
R. Paul Stevens presents an answer to these type of questions in his book Liberating the Laity. Considering his title, one can probably guess what type of answer he is presenting. Stevens gives his foundational concepts early on in the book and they’re as follows.
He says, “The two principles that undergird this entire book are these: First, church leadership is called primarily to an equipping ministry. This is not a sideline to preaching or counseling, but the raison d’être of the pastor-teacher. Second, equipping the saints does not mean harnessing the laity for the felt needs or institutional tasks of the church nor harnessing the laity to assist the pastor with certain delegated ministries. The saints are to be equipped for their own ministry…. (p.38)”
Now these are not bad principles to build a book around. I felt that when he was focused on his two main principles that he had a good case to make. A case that says ministry is not just for the pastor, it is for the whole congregation. That the laity aren’t second class citizens of God’s kingdom behind the clergy. That ministry isn’t just centered on what we do at the church but it needs to be connected to our everyday lives.
Another issue made its way into his book enough that it tended to interfere with his two main principles. That issue was tent making or the idea as he puts it in one of his chapter titles, the idea of voluntary clergy. What he means by this is that the leaders of the church are not paid by the church, but rather earn a wage by working a job outside of the church.
I can see how this concept flows naturally out of the discussion of equipping the laity. For some reason though I just didn’t feel that Stevens treatment of it was very fluid. Maybe it was the fact that he was often making a case for it, but made the point that it wasn’t necessarily how everyone should do it? Maybe it was that one of the chapters about it was done in an odd format that involved an imaginary interview?
I’m not sure, but I felt when he focused on the idea of tent making the waters got muddy and it wasn’t as focused as the idea of equipping people for their own ministries. In fact it may have even distracted from the principle of equipping people. It felt like the book had become a Trojan horse to house an idea that was related, but not absolutely necessary to the discussion.
So what’s my overall impression of Liberating the Laity? It’s a bit mixed. When he’s focused on equipping, the book is at its strongest. I think he raises valid concerns about how we view and act out leadership in the church. With my education being in theology with the goal of being a pastor, these concerns are somewhat close to home, even if I’m not a pastor yet, at least in a “professional” sense.
I found the book useful for raising a number of questions about leadership in church, church models, and the importance of equipping all believers. However, his focus on tent making, which I don’t have any problem with, just seemed uneven. In my opinion, it even distracted a bit too much from his principles that I quoted earlier.
With all this, I’d say that Liberating the Laity is an uneven book. It brings up valid points about equipping the laity, but also feels like you’re getting an advertisement for becoming a tent maker in the process. Add in some chapters that just fall a bit flat, like the chapter that was an imaginary interview and it just makes for an uneven experience. Not enough of one that I’d recommend to steer clear of the book, but also not enough that I’d thoroughly recommend it either.