With her new book, “Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers,” Dr. Ann Michel gets the chance to put a lifelong commitment onto the page.
“My real passion has always been lay ministry,” she said. “And I feel strongly that the recent rise in lay ministry is an act of the spirit to renew the church.”
As associate director of Wesley’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership, Michel has firsthand knowledge of challenges and trends. “Churches are in decline, as we know,” she said. “Paradigms of leadership are waning. Lay ministry is one of the ways the church is called to renew itself.”
For the title of her book, she chose the core concept that drives her work, writing and teaching. “I think of synergy as a theological narrative,” she said. “The Trinity is a synergistic force. Jesus spent his time on earth building a team and drawing people into his ministry. If you really look at what Paul was doing, his ministry was deeply synergistic.”
Michel is also interested in the “the call,” a term often reserved for clergy. She’d like to see that notion expand.
“We’ve come to see an exclusivity in God’s call, that it’s only meant for a few,” she said. “We’ve narrowed it so much. But biblically, the call is for the many.”
In her book, Michel demystifies the way a call happens and the way it’s heard. “We read about a burning bush or a voice in the night,” she said. “We don’t understand that a call can happen in more subtle ways as well. My goal is to help lay people understand that they are called to ministry.”
Such goals reflect Michel’s deep dedication to the church.
“I’m a purpose driven person,” she said. “Being connected with the church connects me with the ultimate purpose. Without being connected to the body of Christ, I’d just be full of good intentions.”
Michel holds both a Master of Theological Studies and a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley, but began her studies with a wealth of professional lay experience.
“Seminary gave me a totally different angle on what I was doing,” she said. “It gave me a fuller context, a different vocabulary for thinking about it. It gave me a deeper theological appreciation of what I was doing and why.”
In “Synergy,” Michel hopes to bring similar clarity to her readers. “Lay ministers operate in a gray area,” she said. “They often don’t have the same sense of theological identity and spiritual authority that the educated clergy have. The purpose of this book is to affirm the theological identity of lay persons in ministry.”
The book’s chapters move from theological exploration into practical leadership advice, with an emphasis on the needs of those who come into lay leadership from other professions. “I offer up a lot of what I’ve learned at the Lewis Center about effective leadership practices,” Michel said. “A lot of the book is really quite tactical.”
Later chapters look at the changing roles of church staff.
“It’s another vast gray area,” Michel pointed out. “Churches are now hiring people to do programmatic ministry. They want those people to understand the spiritual DNA of the congregation, which means they’re sometimes hiring church members. That can create confusion for the congregation and the employee.”
Michel notes that there are 40,000 lay leaders working in The United Methodist Church, more than there are ordained elders. “But they’re beneath the radar screen,” she said. “They’re not on the radar of theological education or of conferences.”
She hopes to change that with her book and with the programs of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Throughout her work, the power of synergy remains a constant theme. “Synergy,” Michel said, “is God’s blueprint.”