This past Saturday, more than 70 lay ministers gathered from across the state of Missouri at our Conference Center in Columbia (in the 7 degree weather!) for a day of training. I was asked to teach on the Five Practices, and enjoyed a couple hours of conversation and engagement about local church ministry.
What a wonderful group of highly committed, deeply dedicated people! Some were retirement age and many were much younger than me. Most hold down other careers while also preaching, teaching, leading, visiting, and working in various pastoral or church leadership roles. Some work with large congregations and many with small congregations. They come with all kinds of varied work and educational backgrounds and with a variety of types of church experience. Sue Watson, the Missouri Conference Director of Pastoral Excellence, planned and led the event, and I offer her our thanks for her good work. This is all part of the Certified Lay Ministers program and training of the Missouri Conference.
Just a few weeks ago, I also spent some time with the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members of the Missouri Conference meeting in the Ozarks. And a few months ago, I was invited to keynote the national gathering of the association of Local Pastors and Associate members. What excellent and committed leadership these groups exhibit! They lead congregations, serving as pastors, associate pastors, and in specialized ministries. They strengthen congregations, change lives, and lead churches in the five practices with extraordinary dedication. They relieve suffering, teach children, organize mission work, stimulate giving, support the elderly and lead youth across our state. They help us fulfill our purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and many of them do this exceptionally well.
With these experiences freshly in mind, Iím touched by the rich texture of our various callings to ministry, and the diverse paths by which people offer themselves in ministry to local congregations. I know that sometimes our various pathways, orders, and statuses of ministry in the United Methodist Church seem confusing, conflicted, and convoluted. We have (or have had recently) lay missioners, lay speakers, certified lay ministers, student local pastors, part-time and full-time local pastors, associate members, probationary members, full members, deacons, elders, extension ministers, retired ministers, ministers from other denominations and ministers other conferences. We have people who are certified, commissioned, ordained and even consecrated for leadership in the church.
But I also know that we simply could not serve all the extraordinarily diverse settings of ministry, all the rural, urban, and suburban churches, charges, and ministry initiatives without a mixture of part-time, full-time, paid, unpaid, volunteer, bi-vocational, lay, certified, commissioned, and ordained ministers. They all play a role in leading congregations and faith communities to fulfill the ministry of Jesus Christ and the mission of the church.
What kind of ministry has God gifted you to fulfill? Do you feel called by God? Have you ever talked with a pastor about the call to ministry? Is your ministry best expressed as a lay member of a congregation, or can you imagine yourself actually leading a congregation in a pastoral role? Would you be willing to train and open yourself up to the mutual accountability that comes with ministry?
Thank you to all those who serve in pastoral roles – lay, clergy, certified, commissioned, or ordained. I give God thanks and praise for your ministries.
Yours in Christ,