A grassroots movement
It is a strong feature of Methodism that ordinary lay people play a major part in the running of the Church.
Local lay people called ‘stewards’ take responsibility for the fabric of church buildings and manses and for the handling of money. They share with ordained ministers the role of setting direction for the churches in a particular area or ‘circuit’.
Worship each week is not always led by an ordained minister, but often by a local preacher – a lay person who has been trained and authorized to lead worship and preach. Every ordained minister in the Methodist Church was first a local preacher.
At all levels of the Methodist Church, lay people are involved in decision making, and the vice-president of the Conference is always a lay person.
This emphasis goes back to the roots of Methodism. John Wesley was very much a folk theologian who wanted to speak ‘plain truth to plain people’. He took seriously the working people of his day. He addressed his preaching to them, and drew great crowds in the street or on hillsides.
He also trusted them with responsibilities. In building the local Methodist groups or ‘societies’, he trained many lay people who then maintained the meetings and gave pastoral care and challenge to the members. He also trained preachers, who led worship locally, rather than travelling the country like himself.