STEWARDSHIP ROLES FOR CLERGY AND LAITY

by Ron Nicola

 

The title of this article seems an appropriate topic for this continuing series on stewardship. As individuals and parishes become more aware of the role stewardship plays in their lives, the next logical step is to design programs which institutionalize its principles. This process naturally involves the identification and performance of specified tasks. Since churches are led by priests who are in turn supported by parishioners, jobs tend to be classified into these two categories.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with setting aside some tasks for clergy and some for laity, long standing misconceptions exist which create incorrect assumptions about this division of responsibility. The Church is an institution based upon spirituality, faith, and long established teachings. Everything done by the Church must be consistent with these prescribed practices. This fact represents the crux of the issue and the source of misunderstandings which have evolved concerning the role of clergy and laity.

The simple fact is that all members of the parish community, clergy and laity alike, should work together in all phases of church life. There are no tasks which are reserved solely for the laymen or exclusively for the priests. It is true that only priests can administer the sacraments, but even in this sacred duty they are supported by laymen. Our various services and liturgies contain roles for clergy and laity. A priest cannot perform them without the involvement of all those in attendance.

This same point holds true in other dimensions of the church’s life. Clergy and laity must work together. Perhaps the most common cliche, stereotype, or misconception which exists in our churches is the one having to do with parish operations. “We run the church like a business.” This practice may be a very sound one, but it has led to the notion that only business persons are qualified to run the church. Since priests are not trained in these matters, they are to be excluded from these aspects of parish operations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Except in those matters relating to ordination and the duties and responsibilities it carries….

 

  1. … no one should be excluded from any phase of parish life.
  2. … all church practices must be consistent with the faith and teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church.

 

Some explanation is needed in order to show how it is possible to have a division of duties without contradicting these two points.

In the Church, there is no place for the belief which states, “the end justifies the means.” Everything done in the name of the Church must be consistent with Biblical teachings. Since the Bible has stories and parables which touch every aspect of human life, the daily lives of individual Christians and of the Church as a whole must be guided by these teachings. When a parish community sets about upgrading its May 1983 stewardship program, care must be taken to involve both clergy and laity in the program’s design. It is a mistake to think there are spiritual segments of the plan and those parts which are out of the realm of spirituality. Everything the Church does is touched by the Hand and Word of God.

It has been mentioned that the Department of Stewardship has designed a number of parish workshops. One of these contains an activity which examines lay-clerical cooperation in the development of a stewardship program. A series of true-false questions are asked, with the answers intended to stimulate thought and discussion. A sampling of these items will help illustrate the extent to which such a program should embrace the entire parish community.

 

  1. “Abdication of a role in stewardship by lay or clerical parish leaders diminishes success of the program.” The truth of this statement should be obvious. When parishioners hear the same message from their lay and clerical leaders, they tend to listen harder and with more attention.
  2. “The priest should be the spiritual leader, uninvolved in material needs of the church.” The first part of this statement is certainly true, but when the last portion is added it should be easily seen as a false notion. The mere fact that the Bible is full of references to God’s concern for man’s attitude toward material possessions proves the priest must shepherd his flock so that material needs are met with a right spirit.
  3. “The priest should never speak of money from the pulpit.” This commonly held notion would be true if Jesus never spoke about money during His earthly life, but the fact He did makes this statement false. If a priest were to simply plan a series of sermons about a certain book of the Bible, many of those messages would be about money and giving. In their book, How to Have a Giving Church, Bartlett and Margaret Hess say, “The Bible gives no hint that God’s spiritual leaders are to avoid mention of money. Money is part of life, and life is the pastor’s domain. He is to lead his flock.”
  4. “Parish councils can meet without inviting their priest.” Once again, the statement is false. There is virtually nothing a parish council could discuss that would not involve their priest, yet the notion persists that some church matters just do not involve the priest. This mistaken belief ignores the fact that everything done by the church must be founded in spirituality and the priest is the spiritual father.
  5. “The priest should initiate the parish pledge program.” By now enough has been said to show that this statement too is false. A joint effort is needed here just as in all other phases of parish life.

 

This particular workshop activity is designed to break down some of the misguided notions of the priest’s role in the development of a parish stewardship plan. Another activity helps bring out ideas concerning how specified roles might be correctly assigned. Everyone in a parish has some talent or skill. In the case of a priest, it is in the area of spiritual and theological training. Another person might be a trained electrician. Someone else an expert seamstress. The point is, each person possess a special talent. It might be related to their job or to a hobby, but it is a service which could be offered to the church. The workshop activity brings out ways of finding out people’s talents and then putting them to use as part of a stewardship master plan.

The proper approach to identifying the role of clergy and laity in a stewardship program should now be somewhat clearer, It has always been understood that there are separate roles to be played, the mistake has been believing some were exclusively reserved for priests or laymen. This practice tends to diminish the totality of the role every person must play in the church. By virtue of his special training, commitment, and certainly his ordination, the priest has certain tasks he is best suited to perform. These should be seen as results of training and ordination, and not because they are the “spiritual” aspects of parish life. Every layman has a special role to play, not because it is out of the spiritual realm, but precisely the opposite. Everything in the Church is encompassed by faith, spirituality, and the teachings found in the Bible.

An earlier article in this series presented and explained fourteen principles which are important points to keep in mind when developing a parish stewardship program. One portion of that article, which appeared in the November, 1982 issue of The Word bears repeating here, as it spoke to the need for cooperation between clergy and laity in the establishment of sound stewardship practices within a parish.

“5. While the priest is always an integral part of any stewardship program, a joint effort between laity and clergy is needed in order for an effective stewardship program to exist. Many people would say this principle is so basic it need not be stated. It would be nice if this were true, but experience suggests the contrary. On the one hand, there is still the notion in some people’s minds that a priest’s role is confined to only certain aspects of parish life. What is known as the ‘upstairs-downstairs’ mentality persists. ‘Father, you take care of the altar and we’ll run the church’s other business. ‘There are no segments of church life not touched by spiritual needs. Stewardship’s broad application reminds us that this is true. The clergy then can be excluded from no aspect of parish life.”

“On the other hand, the priest alone cannot implement an effective stewardship program. Other than administering the sacraments of the Church and conducting Divine Liturgy, there are no aspects of parish life for which only the priest is responsible. The Bible contains numerous references to the role of the faithful as stewards of God’s word. Implementation of an effective, ongoing stewardship program becomes, then, a joint clergy-laity responsibility.”

The success of a parish’s stewardship plan hinges on this issue of role definition. It takes the efforts of all segments of the parish community to make stewardship work. It also requires the awareness and acceptance of the fact that all church programs, involvements, and activities are scripturally based. This point leads logically to the conclusion that all are responsible for assuring the Church’s spiritual wellbeing. Every parish should review their practices to insure that this idea is reflected in their regular routines.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
May 1983
pp. 15-16

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