Why you are ‘not’ a layperson
I want to be honest and say I’d like to get rid of the word “layperson.” And, if you’ve never heard the word before, here is what it means: “A person without professional or specialized knowledge in a particular subject.”
At a base level, there is nothing wrong with this idea. That in some spheres or disciplines we might be a hobbyist or an amateur at something – like being an amateur filmmaker or electronics enthusiast or racing hobbyist.
The problem happens when this term gets infected with consumerism and spreads into the church. Because, here is what can subtly happen: We end up with two classes of Christians – the professional and the layperson. And, what can also easily happen is that we expect more from the professional than the layperson, or we encourage the layperson to live vicariously through the professional.
Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
“If I can be convinced that layperson designates who I am…then I am wide open-market for experts who are ready to tell me how to live my life and, in some cases, even live it for me…And so, I end up delegating the operations of my soul to the experts. I no longer deal with God myself – I’m a layperson, after all…following Jesus gives way to following Jesus-experts.” (1)
I couldn’t agree more. This is a problem in the North American church. We are tempted to follow Jesus-experts, rather than get out into life itself and follow Jesus for ourselves.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t need people who spend decades studying the Bible and theology. Our theologians, scholars, and pastors can help us and they matter, but they can’t follow Jesus for us. We can’t delegate the core of following Jesus to experts who are trained in evangelism, the Bible, hospitality, or teaching. They can point us to Jesus, help us to better understand Jesus, train us in the way of Jesus, but they can’t follow Jesus for us.
I write this to remind you not to buy into the idea that you are layperson in the church. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are the Church. And yes, some of us have been doing it longer than others (and we should look to these people for help), but they can’t fill our role or our calling.
So, we need our models, leaders, pastors and teachers. But, let’s never let “following Jesus give way to following Jesus-experts.” Because the world needs all of us – including you.
1. Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection, Pg. 90-1.
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