Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why the Term "Layman" is bad

You know, I don't think I like the term "Layman" or "lay" or "laity" any more. Why? Well, it used to just mean... the people. The folks. You had the pastor there was was to preach to the people - the laity. Just meant all those folks who didn't do the preaching or sacramental stuff - nothing more, nothing less.

Now the term "layman" almost has a... second tier status... not necessarily in the Church, but outside of the Church. It has the sense of "non-professional"... almost meaning "amateur" or "hobbyist". Are you a carpenter? Nah, I just do it on the side... I'm a lay carpenter.

I'm not trying to say that this is common usage (how many places use the word "lay" anyway) - but that this is sort of the connotation that the word has derived.

Indifferent. Amateur. Not really dedicated. Not "real".

And these connotations have nothing, nothing to do with how the non-clergy are to be viewed in the Church. Yet what happens? Well - what is your normal reaction when you feel marginalized by your title? You try to "move up the ladder" some how.

Being a pastor is not belonging to a "class" of Christian -- it's not like a Pastor is a major league Christian and the laity are just AAA... and maybe someday they might make it to the show.

You know what a Pastor is. A Pastor is just one of the congregation, the people, who has a specific calling, a specific vocation.

You know. A specific job.

I mean... is one a better Christian if one is a farmer, or a doctor, or a machinist? Then why in the world would we think being a pastor would make one a better or higher or more important Christian?

Maybe in part its because there is baggage with that term laity... baggage that has no business being there.

I really liked Prof. Weinrich's "BP" model -- the Church consists of Bishop and People. Nothing wrong with being people... and being the Bishop's just an office, nothing more, nothing less.


Mike Baker said...

I understand what you are saying and I agree with your underlying point about all Christians being the same, but I think you are projecting a subtext into the meaning of the world that others do not neccesarily subscribe to.

"In layman's terms", I'm saying that the layman distinction seperates the professional churchman from non-professional churchmen. This is an important distinction, not only because it protects the pastoral office, but it is also a guard against pietism.

Once you remove the layman/pastor distinction, it is very easy to raise the bar of minimal Christian practice beyond the time and effort that a non-professional does not have the time, energy, or training to devote himself to.

Layman is a vocation term that is not only for the church. It just so happens that, in these modern times, it is the most common usage. It simply means "has not received specialized training."

Example: I am a soldier. People who are not trained in soldiering ask me about military topics. It would be unhelpful for me to act as though they are exactly like me with the same level of experience and knowledge in the subject or to expect them to behave as though they were not laymen in this field.

Instead of a modern mindset that seeks to be inclusive and remove distinctions among people, consider it an important descriptor that indicates a certain level of training... like novice.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The fear that I have is that the distinction isn't in terms of training, but in terms of being a "real" -- and I say that because so much of the language today - calling everything a "ministry" or what have you is a back door diminishing of the role of the laity. And I'm wondering if some of this doesn't come from our disdain of anyone who isn't an expert in anything.

But perhaps I am projecting. Who knows.