Blog - Grasping Vocation

Religious Ruts in Your Work World: Part 6

Friday, April 30, 2010



Sue Mallory, in her book, The Equipping Church, admits: “I put off writing this book for a long time because I wasn't sure I had an audience or a right to speak. After all, I thought, I'm just a layperson.” What had held her back? The self-fulfilling prophecy, “I'm just a layperson.”

The term “self-fulfilling prophecy” does not show up in Scripture. But the Bible clearly includes examples of it. A negative example: most of the spies Moses sent to scout out the Promised Land said, “We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." Believing “we can't,” they couldn't. A positive example: In spite of Peter's “Jello” history, Jesus called him “Rock.” Peter became what Jesus called him.

Sue Mallory is not alone. Centuries of church tradition have conditioned countless Christians to think of and call themselves as “just laypersons.” Some recent blogs illustrate how entrenched this self-fulfilling prophecy has become:

· “I'm just a layperson looking in from the sidelines.” (In football, that's benched.)

· “I'm just a layperson, not a pastor or church leader.”

· “I wouldn't know, since I'm just a layperson.”

· “I'm just a lay person. I don't think they'd listen to me. Really.”

Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Jesus Way, writes: “Within the Christian community there are few words that are more disabling than ‘layperson' or ‘laity.' Lesslie Newbigin points out that the word layman “has come to mean, in common speech, an ignoramus, an outsider.” John Stott adds, “Lay is often a synonym for ‘amateur' as opposed to professional,' or ‘unqualified' as opposed to ‘expert.'” Dictionaries define “laity” as “not clergy.” A speaker at a men's retreat recently observed, “It's easy for us to define ourselves by what we're not.”

Adding the word “just” to “layperson” makes this self-fulfilling prophecy all the more disabling.

“Just” means trivial. Insignificant. Of little consequence. A marriage license is “just a piece of paper.” A child's behavior is “just a phase.” A $10 donation is “just a drop in the bucket.” So if I call myself “just a layperson,” what am I saying? I'm a featherweight in spiritual matters. Ministry in my workplace? What right have I, a rank amateur, to speak with co-workers about things of God?

If our religious tradition teaches us to see ourselves this way, is it any wonder so many settle for being “just laypersons”? Might this help explain the perpetual immaturity we see so often in the church?

“Just a layperson?” Sue Mallory finally asked herself. “I had to learn to think again.” Yes, Sue. We all need to learn to think again—to take another look at who God says we are in Christ and plant our faith-feet on those descriptions. Stay tuned. The next blog will take us in that direction.

On what occasions might you have described yourself as “just a layperson”? And what effect has that self-prophecy had on you?

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