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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Passports & Permission Slips

I've been thinking about "either/or" thinking lately.  

An example of this might sound like: "If I'm not elected to church leadership, I should keep my ideas to myself and let elected leaders do their jobs."


When I step away from "either/or" thinking, I find myself saying things like this: "How can I use my gifts of teaching, preaching, laity-strengthening, organizational leadership, evangelism, and pastoral care to love us all as Christ loved us effectively?"


When we think of what's our role and purpose as non-ordained people, we know that there is a world of difference between ordained clergy and a pew-warmer - to use a well-worn "either/or" kind of concept. 


Instead, we can list off a dozen lay people who support our congregations by word and deed. Both clergy and lay people half-joke that our church would die without these people. 


I think some of us look to these saints of the church and say to ourselves, "There's no way I could do all of that." Likewise, I think some of us hear a call for volunteers and say to ourselves, "I could pitch in for a couple of months, but I don't want to do this for the rest of my life. I don't want to disappoint anyone if I can't do this long-term, so I won't volunteer." 

Let's try switching this "either/or" thinking up. What if we say, "I can do this one thing for this long. If I love it, I'll keep going for a bit longer. My congregation will respect this." 

I've used two things to help congregations look at lay-life differently. These two things break up "either/or" fallacies. 

The first is the Permission Slip


I hereby give you a Permission Slip to try out something at church, even a pretty nutty idea. Go for it. No one is going to think less of you if you only try it for a week or if your nutty idea doesn't work out. 

And even if they do, you've got a Permission Slip! Wave it around! It's a free pass! Go forth and try! 


The second idea I came up with is the Passport to Ministry. The concept is to list the things your congregation does in broad categories: Worship, Outreach, Formation, Hospitality… that sort of thing. You go around and get your Passport stamped when you try each one. Give yourself a prize when you're done if no one else does. I'll personally buy you your favorite beverage to celebrate! 

The Passport to Ministry allows us permission to try something out and move on. If we like it, we can come back. If it's not for us, we've given it the old college try. 


I've used both of these things for myself, and it's taught me about being a church-going Christian.

  1. I've learned that there are incredible people teaching children. It's not for me, but I love to assist and support those incredible people in any way I can. 

  2. I've learned that I am part of the church's leadership, even if I don't have a title. As a member, I am also a leader. It is my responsibility to support my congregation in any way I can. No permission needed. 

  3. I've learned that I love leading worship and that there is a LOT that un-ordained people can do to lead worship. I love teaching others and encouraging shared leadership. Some of my greatest joys are leading Morning Prayer, guiding others to lead, and watching the Holy Spirit light something beautiful in someone as they step deeper into leading worship. 

Not every idea or willingness to "jump in" will be met with joy. Guest preaching, for example, really does need to be approved by clergy. Putting a bounce house in the sanctuary is a terrible idea (although a fun one to imagine). 

But 90% of the time, you will be encouraged. You may not be supported, but most of the time you won't be told "no."

Listen to your heart. Where is the Spirit nudging you?


What are you waiting for permission to do? What are you willing to try? What would you choose if there were no pressure to commit? 

 

Photo by Agus Dietrich on Unsplash

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