See All the People: Equipping, Empowering, and Engaging our Community

Gathered with family, I found myself teaching my non-churched great-niece that little church rhythm most of you probably learned as a child. “Here is the church, Here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people”. Every adult in the room knew it and joined in with the appropriate actions. I should note, however, that their first attempt left all the people stuck in the church. The adults all had to shift their hands to make sure we could see the people. I find the people stuck in the church to be very telling.

In searching the web for lay leadership insights, I discovered a 2004-2005 Christian Reformed Church (CRC) study that was eye-opening. I am sure the stats have changed but I would bet money the results would be about the same if we did the same survey today in the Nebraska Synod. The article by Shirley J. Roels and Kari Slotsema* summarized the survey’s findings. They discovered that people’s gifts were not always well matched to their service roles. Spiritual gift inventories provided nice information, but it was seldom a factor affecting actual service. The training was focused on the job not on growing as a disciple. Participants were trained on the curriculum or the program specifics but conversations focusing on personal growth were often missing. Appreciation, feedback, and evaluations were also missing in many of the churches.

We all know the church is the people. When the laity is not active the church suffers. It’s not about a lack of workers it is about the mission of the church, call and vocation, and being followers of Jesus. Clergy-lay teams bring unity, creative juices, thoughtful questions, practical expertise, and hope-filled prayers to the table. We are better together. We say that a lot in Nebraska and it applies to the church, too.

Equipping volunteers, our lay members, is the focus and gift of EMMAUS: Lifelong Learning. Lisa Kramme offered Growing Young equipping lay members to guide change in their congregations as they explore the “6 essential strategies of helping young people discover and love your church”. St. Michael Lutheran Church of Omaha had 12 members of their care team participate in the Ministering to Grieving People course with Dr. Don Eisenhauer. Rev. Dr. Rick Carlson offered a preaching Luke course with rave reviews from pastors, PMAs, deacons, and lay members. Deacon Timothy Siburg’s Stewardship Nuts and Bolts session was a great jump start for congregations rethinking stewardship as we pivot into a new “post-pandemic” world. A lay preaching class and a fun course on using children’s books to engage young disciples in faith-filled conversation are being planned.

Emmaus: Lifelong Learning is for curious disciples eager to continue learning and forever mining treasures of their faith. Theological education, faith formation, spiritual formation, and practical hands-on courses all fall into the realm of Emmaus: Lifelong Learning. Input is appreciated as we plan future offerings. Courses are posted at https://nebraska-synod.local/faith-in-action/leadership/emmaus/.

“Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people”. Let’s open the doors so we can see all the people and invite them to grow as disciples grounded as followers of Jesus the Christ.

This article was written by Deacon Sunni Richardson, Nebraska Synod Director for Leadership Development