I have just discovered two fascinating books by Uniting Church lay person Emeritus Professor Rod Jensen from Brisbane. He says that like so many other laypeople, he has been saddened by the apparently inevitable decline of most of the Christian churches in the Western world, and the apparent reluctance of the churches to come to terms in a positive and effective way with this decline.
I am yet to give a full read to read the first of these books but there is lots of material in there to generate some significant discussion and reflection. It is well written, thoroughly researched and well illustrated with personal stories and anecdotes. These books will be more provocative than I think he intends but it’s a conversation worth having.
His thesis is that while church leaders and councils are the official decision-makers in the churches, the actual decisions which decide the future of the churches are made by the laity as they judge what the churches have to offer, and accept or reject these offerings. He argues with statistics that recent history shows that the laity have voted with their feet as they leave for more rewarding pastures, and that they will continue to do so.
What he describes as “two small books” are actually quite substantial texts offering a lay voice or lay perspective on the church. The books can be downloaded from his website downloadable free of charge. These are his descriptions of the two books:
What Do the Laypeople Think?: the Silent Voice of the Departing Church Laity.
This book is written about the church laity, for the laity by a layperson, drawing primarily on the insights and experience of many lay people it expresses (free of theological distractions) the feelings expressed in so many informal discussions among laypeople over many years of casual conversation. These are the silent voices of the laity, called the forgotten factor in the church by one writer, but they are the voices which must be heard if we are to come to an understanding of the lay mind and what this means for the churches. They are the voices which will determine how many people will be in the pews of the churches in the future.
This book also reviews the evidence about laypeople which comes from the surveys and research. We look at the evidence of why people come to church, or indeed leave the church. For instance, it appears that one main reason for leaving is that many people find the church service ‘boring and unfulfilling’, and we ask how the Good News which Christians value so much can be presented to bring about this reaction. We examine the tumultuous changes which have accompanied the world of post-modernism, and the implications for the churches today. We examine the sometimes troubled relationship between the laity and the clergy and finally consider the challenges which face all of us in the churches if we are to have a positive future.
The Layperson in the History of the Church: A Brief Lay perspective.
The Christian church, despite its human failings has carried the essential message of the love of Christ for two millennia. The history of this journey has been written many times, by many prominent historians and others, and from many different viewpoints. This book is not simply another church history rather it seeks simply to tell briefly the tale of the layperson throughout the centuries. To some extent, we are all products of our history, since many of our present-day church beliefs had their roots in these early times. Some will claim that we have strayed too far from these early roots and some will claim that we have retained too much of the early church in our lives today. Whatever our opinions, we share common bonds with the laity of history, as we seek the truth of Christ in different centuries as Neil and Weber put it, the layperson "stands in apostolic succession, stretching from the New Testament to our own time".
Two points stand out when in this small book on the role of the laity in the history of the church:
1. The laypeople in the church pews today are very different from those of past centuries. The early church dominated every aspect of the lives of the laity today a very different layperson is a free spirit who judges the church (and other institutions) fairly harshly, and selects his/her spiritual path from a smorgasbord of churches and belief systems,
2. The church of history has been very much a conservative institution, resisting change or reform (sometimes harshly). Most of the major changes in the church over history have been forced by the actions or initiatives of prominent intellectual laypeople, usually scientists or philosophers. Sadly, the intellectuals of today appear mainly to have abandoned the church.
This small book addresses the main issues in which the laity have influenced the church of history.
Well worth a look.