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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

the witness of the laity

Hot off the NEXT conference, I headed back out of town to Fayetteville, NC, for a "lay renewal weekend."  Interesting to have just come from a "future of the church" conference to go to what has become mostly a thing of the past, though perhaps one of the most life-giving forms I've been involved with.

I experienced my first "lay renewal" when I was a child. My main exposure to it was my father's involvement as the host coordinator.  I remember going with him to his office to make posters and handouts related to organizing it (yes, my administrative training goes WAY back).  The most lasting impact of that 1976 (or thereabouts) renewal was that it changed my father's faith and life significantly.

In the years that followed (1977-1992), my father led multiple teams of laypeople, at the invitation of other churches, to conduct what I have heard described as a "Presbyterian revival."  The heart of the lay renewal format is lay testimony and small group discussion.  There might be a preacher, but every gathering is marked by non-preachers sharing their faith journey, struggles, and more.  And it was always transforming for the churches we went to as well as for the incoming team.  And what a blessing for me to grow up surrounded by that - hearing ordinary people talking about an extraordinary God, who had touched their lives in so many diverse ways.

And so, I served on the music team this past weekend - not as the preacher, but as a musician.  And some seven or so laypeople from my church went and shared testimonies.  I saw the familiar and glorious movement of the Spirit as the host congregation tentatively engaged and then enthusiastically engaged.

Our coordinator is one of the last leading this model, and this is presumably his last renewal.  I threw out some 'seeds' to one of the younger folks from my own congregation about whether he might pick up the ministry.  We'll see.

It's fascinating to have this 'old' experience right after the newness of the NEXT conference.  While the lay renewal weekend model probably needs freshening, I see much of what was valued at NEXT (and in other 'future' conversations) in it: empowered laity witnessing and leading; small group open-ended discussion; an outward-focused multiplicative model of training/equipping; an openness to what God is doing in the midst.

God is good!


margo said...

Thanks for sharing on the lay renewal weekend. Sounds much like Pilgrimage (Presbyterian version of Cursillo, or Emmaus). Tried & true discipleship experience & deepened relationship with Jesus. Our 3 day (Thurs PM, Friday, Saturday & Sunday model) powerful event needs freshening as well. Sure would like to speak with you concerning that aspect of such a needed instrument for the Church. I'm so thankful for your witness, Robert.

robert austell said...

Margo - I'd love to talk more, and just had a great conversation with a local pastor friend today about Presbyterian Pilgrimage. Can you e-mail me at robert@gspc.net?

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