Professional Lay Ministry in the Church

The ELCA News Service yesterday posted an interesting press release about recent discussions of the ELCA’s rostered lay leaders (Associate in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, Deaconesses – read about these ministries here.  Read the press release here: ELCA Consultation Examines Future of Word and Service Leadership).  In short, there seems to be an ambiguity about what distinguishes one lay roster from another, and about the role that those serving in these "public ministry of Word and service" play in the church and in relationship to ordained ministry.

I have worked as a non-rostered lay worker in the church (youth director, fundraiser, and church publishing sales representative) for a total of more than five years.   In my church publishing sales representative days I met dozens – hundreds – of paid church workers who were not on any of the ELCA’s lay rosters.  Of course, I also met some who were. 

So, what does it mean for a church (or church agency) to hire someone without formal seminary training and formation?  What does it mean to hire someone who is seminary trained and "rostered" among the church’s leaders of Word and Service?  And why should a lay worker in the church seek 2+ years of seminary training and formation process to become a Christian Educator, youth director or pastoral assistant?  Should congregations care?

Some thoughts on these questions and this whole issue of professional lay ministry in the church in the coming days . . .

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

8 thoughts on “Professional Lay Ministry in the Church

  1. I’m friends with 2 AIMS, and acquainted with one. One has a position that is almost the same as a pastor. The other two don’t have church jobs because the synod won’t give out their names to churches because “churches don’t ask for AIMS.” And churches don’t ask for AIMS because the synod doesn’t tell them that there are people available.
    One of the “problems” that I can see is that the path to being certified varies quite a bit.
    One is left to wonder if the seminary trained, ordained pastors have some problem with sharing the ministry.

  2. Chris, I work in a church currently as a Director of Christian Education. I am seminary trained (MA in systematics) but not rostered. I purposely chose not to be. Back when I was an MDiv I had a candidacy committee that questioned my call for poor, and I dare say innappropriate reasons. Reasons as it turns out which have nothing to do with the actual reason I let the idea of ordination go (at least for right now). That combined with the very real “second-class citizen” mentality that MAs felt at the seminary (where classes were geared primarily to support and enhance the MDiv), led me to seek my ministry a bit removed from the ELCA governing bodies.
    I know AIMs who struggle to find jobs because of being rostered (a pity really) and I know there are plenty of jobs out there. Sometimes it strikes me that the church would ideally like to return to a Herr Pastor mentality, where the pastors do all the work and make all the decisions.
    Consistently I come up against an unwillingness to pay lay leaders at the level of their education and experience, as well as a distrust of their abilities (because you know, they aren’t pastors).
    I certainly know that these experiences are not always true but I have seen them occur enough to me and my colleagues to recognize some repetition on these subjects. And if the church is unwilling to admit and celebrate the value of the lay leader in general I’m not quick to join on the roster wagon. Just 2 cents.
    P.S. Lest I seem too bitter, let me just say that I enjoy my work and my church and the ELCA (most of the time) and know that my work is worthwhile for the church. I get a little preachy sometimes when it comes to lay leader appreciation.

  3. There is also the financial aspect of church jobs. Pastors are often not paid all that well. What do we pay someone who is trained at a lower level, but still full time? And then beneath that pay grade, there would be the church secretary, etc. Pretty hard to pay lower than low. And probably no benefits for the local church workers.
    I’m just throwing this is as one piece of the puzzle.

  4. I am the spouse of someone who has the most of the training of the pastor, but is not rostered in anyway. Unforunately, non-rostered means no benefits, despite working more than full time. But to be rostered would disqualify him for a position to which he is called (because of the lack of monetary resources, or perceived lack, in the congregation)

  5. God bless those who are gifted in a variety of ways (seminary-trained or not). We need to invest in persons who are called and equipped to serve God in the Church in particularly ways no matter what their education.

  6. Boy, is this a memory from the past! I once was approved for certification by the LCA as a Lay Professional in Education. I had been serving on an state-wide Educational Ministry team for several years, and loved it. When I applied for several educational ministry jobs in churches, the reasons given for not hiring me were: 1)they preferred a single, newly-graduated college person because he would be cheaper (I was just shy of 40;) 2) another church hired a missionary’s daughter because she needed a job (and I didn’t??) and 3)the lady they hired had been their organist for 25 years, and they already knew her (and her educational experience was??) I moved to another state, and worked for a year as a volunteer establishing educational teams. About that time the ELCA merger took place, and the top echelon suspended all certifications while they “studied the issue.” I went to work for an Episcopal Cathedral, and currently work in a Methodist church. While I love what I do, and feel called to servant “ministry”, I consider ALL church structures dysfunctional!

  7. I would like to see the ELCA reduce the number of “rostered lay” titles/positions and somehow standardize nomenclature and training.
    FWIW, at our church we have two full time lay program professionals. Neither are on the roster, though both are great at what they do. Our youth director has more than a decade of full time experience, and though she does not have a degree from one of the sems, she has gone to a great deal of ongoing training in her field.
    Originally the synod suggested that we call an AIM for this position, so we set up a process by which we could look at both rostered and non-rostered individuals. I could not tell an appreciable difference, and the experience of having done this (twice for that position, actually, and once for a children’s ministry director) has made me ask if the lay roster is essential. I see its value in theory, but the current way it is set up does not translate well for some local parishes.
    I thank God everyday for our lay staff! They are a blessing to our community and provide essential service and support. The fact that they aren’t on the roster doesn’t bother me – or anyone else in our parish – in the least. We just care that they are faithful to what they feel they were called to do.

  8. This topic opens up a can of worms for me. I am a candidate in diaconal ministry, but I can sympathize with those for whom there has not been adequate discussion, differentiation, or rationale regarding the different lay rosters. It is hard to imagine finding a congregational call (not that that is necessarily my wish anyway) when my synod candidacy committee does not always appear sure what diaconal ministers do either. Yet I see the distinctions between the rosters in terms of history and self-identity, and it means a great deal to me that diaconal ministry is defined (in part) in terms of the Biblical deaconate (distributing food to the widows and the poor) and as standing at the threshold of church and world. This strikes me as a unique and very necessary role. The UMC ordains diaconal ministers–not to the roster of elders to be sure; it is a different ministry–but the ELCA seems bizarrely protective of ordination. I am not seeking to be a pastor; the gifts of a pastor are not my gifts. But I would like my church to interest itself in the ministry to which I *am* being called.

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