What is the role of lay leaders in a mission-focused congregation?  What is the role of the minister? Our guest blogger today has experience and success leading mission-focused congregations.  In this post he shares some of his insights.


The distinction between lay and clergy roles is a key element in being a successful mission-driven congregation.

It is the role of clergy to give articulation to the mission, and the role of laity to live out the mission.  By role, I do not mean that clergy don’t live out the mission and laity don’t talk about it, etc.  But in my experience, laity who try to give the mission articulation usually do it through committee work.  Then, a few years later, when the committee completes its work,  the mission statement is presented and five years later is mostly or completely forgotten and nowhere integrated into the life of the church.  I’ve seen it in too many of the churches I consulted with.

Clergy who conceive of their role primarily as living out our faith can easily (though not necessarily) see themselves as the archetypal model of the faith.  The danger is that the congregation might conceive its work primarily, if not exclusively, through what the pastor does rather than find their own way to live out the mission.  And the pastor gets affirmed being so “out front” of the congregation!

When I use the term role I mean also accountability, so that if the mission is not clearly understood by laity it is because the clergy are not giving sufficient, understandable, and frequent articulations and analysis of it; and, if the mission isn’t clearly being lived out in the congregation’s activity it is, in part, because the laity don’t regard the responsibility of living a life of faith to be theirs.

Clergy give articulation through sermons (mission should be at least used as a phrase in 1 sermon every 28 days, though the more frequent the better), committee work (as in the comment, “Here’s how you might conceive of this event in terms of our mission, ___”), leadership training (Clergy should explain how mission-centered congregations work in general, and yours in particular with your particular mission, as a part of every retreat), and fund raising (Clergy connect money given to activities of congregation, making the connection explicit and explaining it in terms of the mission).  The key thing for Clergy to note is that it is the clergyperson’s role to cast the mission and listen to how congregants respond and gradually, over three or so years, adjust the mission such that it becomes a collaborative creation.  And then, the clergyperson repeats is again and again and again, and gradually lay leaders come to assist in giving it articulation.

Meanwhile, laity live out the mission of the church through the activities in common.  These particular activities should be ones which clergy can identify with the mission, and do so publicly.  This becomes the compliment to the congregation’s activity, and helps build spiritual identity in all.

The clergy’s role is not to create the congregation’s activity, but the theological challenge of giving justification of the activity that comes forth relative to the mission of the congregation and the larger aims of our faith tradition.  Gradually, over several years, the activities that are not tied to mission usually fall away (in part because the clergy are not talking about them in the same way as activity that clearly fulfills and lives out mission); and, those activities that remain, simply remain.  But, in the long view the congregation deepens its identity, as do individuals, because there is “common cause and aim” to activity, and Clergy have interpreted/justified it relative to faith identity.


Rev. Dr. Brent Smith was in the parish for 26+ years before joining faculty at Grand Valley State University (Western Michigan) where he now teaches Religious Studies.  He served as Senior Minister at four churches, Unitarian Church North (Milwaukee), All Souls Tulsa, Fountain Street Church (Independent), and All Souls Grand Rapids (MI).  He received leadership training at Willowcreek and The Leadership Network.  For more information, click here.

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.