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DYK? Laity are in ministry

Posted: February 28 2018 at 03:34 PM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Asst. to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries


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Rev. Arlene Christopherson outside the Global Ministries Building in Atlanta.

Last month United Methodist Directors of Connectional Ministries from around the world met in Atlanta. It was an opportunity to visit the new General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) offices and meet with many of the key staff in that agency. The time was well spent as we learned more about the resources provided by GBGM for our conference and churches.

I was a little puzzled, however, as I looked over our agenda and saw an entire afternoon devoted to visiting the Coca-Cola headquarters in town. The Coca-Cola visit turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the gathering.

We met with four executives from various departments who not only shared the humanitarian philosophy of the organization but also wowed us with their faith witness. All four, from different faith backgrounds, are leaders in an internal, intentional Christian community at the headquarters. They lead a “Lunch and Learn” program daily, offer a weekly lunchtime Bible study, sponsor guest speakers and provide a prayer chain. All volunteers, they are also active in their own churches.

These laity are preaching and teaching and discipling their co-workers with amazing stories of the community they are building in the midst of a global corporation. Their witness made me think about the ways we equip and empower laity in our churches. The Coke speakers emphasized their nuanced approach to sharing their faith. This isn’t aggressive evangelism, but it is what we are called to do as we live a life, bearing Christ’s light into the world.

Thinking about their ministry drew me back to an email I answered recently from an active laywoman in our conference who was looking for guidance on what she could do next to continue growing her faith and stretching in her discipleship. Our congregations do much to build a foundation for our faith, but sometimes we outstrip the capacity of our local church in our thirst for knowledge.

The email read in part: “what else can I do, do I need to go to seminary?” Of course, I would never discourage anyone from going to seminary, but there are many, many ways to continue strengthening and molding our faith to be an effective lay witness. We need effective lay witnesses!

Here are just a few that I shared... 

Have you gone through the Lay Servant Academy? The Academy is active in our conference offering winter and fall courses on most of our districts focused on equipping laity. One can become a certified lay servant, even taking advance courses and pursing lay ministry certification. There is information about the Lay Servant Academy here on our website www.umcnic.org/layservantministries. We also have a conference Lay Servant Ministries Committee and a great coordinator Peggy Hansen (prhisu71@att.net) if you want to contact her to learn more.

We also offer the Academy for Faith Community Development. This intensive process provides support, ministry skill development, and leadership training in order to prepare a pool of leaders for reaching out to religious “nones.” While primarily attended by Hispanic/Latino laity there are Korean and English speaking participants, too. It's a two-year program meeting over a weekend each month. Learn more at www.umcnic.org/FaithAcademy.

Or do you know about the Deaconess and Home Missioners program? This is a specialization/certification/training program coordinated through the United Methodist Women. Deaconesses and Home Missioners are laywomen and laymen who are called by God to be in a lifetime relationship for engagement with a full-time vocation in ministries of love, justice, and service. Together they form a covenant community that is rooted in Scripture, informed by history, driven by mission, ecumenical in scope, and global in outreach. We have several Deaconesses in the NIC and two more will be consecrated this spring.

Deaconesses and Home Missioners are teachers, church workers, librarians, and more. This is a lay order that challenges participants to grow in their faith and acknowledges their work as lay witnesses in the world. Learn more at www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/dhm.

Or perhaps you are drawn to music, counseling, or spiritual direction. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry offers a professional certification process that entails theological training, skill development, professional experience, a community of support, and accountability to the annual conference. You can learn more about this opportunity at www.gbhem.org/education/certification.

We also have the Institute for Congregational Development a two-year program in the Northern Illinois Conference attended primarily by clergy but open to lay participants who wish to grow in faith and skills. This intensive process provides support, professional growth, and leadership training in order to prepare clergy to start new churches and redevelop existing churches. Learn more at www.umcnic.org/ICD.

Some of these are general church programs and some are homegrown. All are challenging and fulfilling and they all include laity. I'm sure I'm missing something, but this is a start. Look at some of these and think about where God is calling you to grow so you can share your faith in the world.

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