As fewer people enter the ministry the demand for lay leaders continues to grow. Add to
that the increasingly complex task of running a church and the need for adequately
trained lay leaders becomes even more evident. But how is this growing demand going
to be met? The United Methodist church, among others, has recognized the role that the
Internet and technology can play in meeting this training gap. There are several online
lay leader training programs being offered.
The problem is not only how can this training be best offered, but what is the best method
to ensure the continued growth after the training. The goal of this project is to see if we
can tap into the powerful concept of communities of practice to offer those participating
in training the opportunity to develop a support system that enables them to continue their
personal growth. These communities of practice will give them a place to discuss their
common problems, situations, needs, and aspirations as well as explore new ideas. The
church is more than a repository of Biblical theology. It is a living embodiment of
knowledge that resides in the faithful and that knowledge needs to be shared.
Earlier this year I participated with others, as a joint venture called the Academy for
Faithful Ministry was formed between McMurry University and the Methodist Church.
Its goal is to begin addressing lay leader training needs. The Academy will be held
yearly with this year focusing on supplying the scriptural background and support for the
various roles a lay leader may be asked to assume. An impressive list of facilitators and
speakers have committed to this project. But what we hope will make the Academy
unique is the creation of a website to act as a catalyst for developing ongoing
communities of practice. Attendees of the conference will be able to return home and
participate in discussion boards, chat rooms, take surveys, contribute reviews of book,
music, and movies as well as view articles of current interest to members of the
Methodist Church. There will be facilitators online to help kick off these communities.
The vision, goals and focus of the Academy, as well as the purpose and functionality of
the support website have been refined through 3 action research cycles. Additional cycles
will take place as we evaluate how these online tools can be effectively used to create
ongoing online communities of practice for lay leaders.