Certified Lay Ministry is authorized by our Book of Discipline ¶ 271. We fit somewhere between Certified Lay Speaker and Local Pastor, but definitely remain laity in the church. A Certified Lay Minister has no Sacramental authority. Simply said, Certified Lay Ministry is a deeper commitment for service, with significantly more vetting, training and education. Once certified, we serve by assignment from the District Superintendent, in consultation with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. How do we get started? As I mentioned, you have to be a Certified Lay Speaker in good standing, and have taken at least four advanced courses, inclusive of the required “You can Preach!”; “You Can Lead Worship” and “Lay Speakers Interpret United Methodist Heritage”. The “gatekeeper” in the process is your District Director of Lay Speaking Ministries. He or she has the responsibility of certifying that you have met the initial qualifications. As I mention under the Lay Speaking tab, finding these required courses can be a challenge. At the least, you will likely have to travel out of District or even out of the Conference to find them. If you having difficulty finding courses, talk with your District Director for Lay Speaking Ministries. You also might investigate on-line courses such as those found at BeADisciple.Com. and ask your District Director if one or more of these courses might substitute.
From there, the process goes like this:
- Pray about the calling. Is this what God has in mind for you? Do you have the patience? Do you have the passion? Will your family support your decision? Will your church support your candidacy? Those are bold questions and have to be squarely faced in prayer.
- Find out if your district has appointed a Director or Coordinator for Certified Lay Ministry. If so, go visit him or her. We are more than happy to help you understand the process, get the correct forms and even loan reading and study materials if we have them.
- Find out if your Conference has a procedural checklist for certified lay ministry. If so, get a copy and review it carefully. Each conference has every right to add requirements to those contained in the Discipline. Your District Coordinator will have a copy, or inquire through the District Superintendent’s office. The checklist for the Southwest Texas Conference can be accessed though this site.
- Submit the following to the District Superintendent’s office:
1.) The letter from your District Director of Lay Speaking Ministries acknowledging your status as a Certified Lay Speaker with completion of the requisite courses.
2.) Your pastor’s letter of recommendation.
3.) Your church counsel’s letter of recommendation, with a notation that your candidacy was approved at a church conference or charge conference.
4.) Your application on the form provided by the District office. The form (101) for the Southwest Texas Conference can be accessed though this site.
5.) Your biographical information form as provided by the District office. The form (201) for the Southwest Texas Conference can be accessed though this site.
6.) A current criminal background check on your church’s form and as procured by your church. You may already have one on file at your church. If not, your pastor or church secretary will have the consent form for you to sign.
7.) The conference form for Sexual Misconduct and Felony or Misdemeanor Certification. The form for the Southwest Texas Conference can be accessed though this site.
- Schedule a meeting with your District Superintendent to discuss your candidacy. You will need to discuss whether your conference requires a mental health assessment and physical. The Southwest Texas Conference does and you will need information as to how such an assessment and physical can be scheduled with the Conference. This requirement underscores that this is a serious endeavor. You will not be clergy, but you will have humbling and awesome responsibilities. The conference has to have confidence that you are suited for these responsibilities. The mental health assessment and physical can be expensive and you might discuss with your pastor if your church is willing to pay a portion of this cost. Did I mention that most likely, you will serve without compensation? This will not be a job; it will be a passion to serve.
- You then need to schedule a meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. They have to approve your candidacy and appoint you a clergy mentor. Most District Committees meet only a few times each year and they have a busy agenda. Your District Superintendent’s office should have the schedule of meetings.
- Once your candidacy is approved, then you can begin your studies. The course materials are called the “Four Modules” and are available for download from the GBOD virtual bookstore for a cost of $25.00 per module. As of now, at least in this Conference, the only real way to work through the modules is by way of an independent study with your clergy mentor. I believe that the four modules are offered in course form in some Conferences, but not in the Southwest Texas conference so far as I know.
There is a bit of a “critical path” issue at this point. As a candidate, you are assigned to a church. It may well be the church where you are a member, but the District Superintendent, in consultation with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, and with your consent, could assign you to a church that needs pastoral care. The church could be small and struggling, and without resources to pay clergy. The church could be a “new start”. The church could be large and in need of someone to work in a specific ministry. If you are assigned to a larger church that is fully staffed, you will not be responsible for planning and implementing worship. If you are assigned to lead a small church, you may well be tossed into a situation where you are learning rapidly and preaching every Sunday. Your relationship with the congregation, and the way you go about your studies, will be dictated by the circumstances of your assignment. In my case, I was assigned to my home church where I had served in various leadership roles for years. I had the luxury of working through the Four Modules with my clergy mentor more as an academic pursuit than on the job training. Had I been assigned (and if I am reassigned someday), the pace would have been more hectic as we prepared for worship while studying the materials.
Module One is “Call and Covenant For Ministry” and is a time to discern your gifts and establish the relationship with the congregation. It is a time to read and discern.
Module Two is “The Practice of Ministry” and is a nuts and bolts course on planning and implementing worship, preparing and delivering a sermon, evangelism, membership, discipleship and pastoral care. Plan to spend some time on this module. Each Module calls for supplemental reading. Most of the supplemental reading materials are available through the Cokesbury Bookstore or the virtual bookstore found at the GBOD website. However, I found that some of the required materials are not in print any longer and difficult to find at a reasonable price. I was able to find materials to substitute, with approval of my District Superintendent. If you find yourself in the same position, contact me and I will give you the list of substitute materials approved in the Victoria District.
Module Three is “Organization For Ministry” and is a study in proper leadership style and bearing, with a mix of administration tossed in.
Module Four is “Connection For Ministry” and is a primer on United Methodist heritage, polity and organization.
Depending on your reading pace, the relationship with your clergy mentor, the needs of the congregation you are serving and the time that you have to devote to the process, you will work through the modules anywhere from about four to eight months. Your clergy mentor will schedule meetings to discuss the materials and answer questions. My clergy mentor also wanted written progress reports. He also requested that I keep regular office hours at the church and assigned me projects to work on, but always understood that I had a law office to run and clients who were expecting me to timely complete their projects. Fortunately, I really like coffee and remembered my old study habits from college and law school.
When you have completed the four modules and you clergy mentor will attest to the satisfactory completion, you are then in a position to apply for certification with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. The form (401) for the Southwest Texas Conference can be accessed though this site. A visit is scheduled with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry and they are entitled to ask you questions. The questions can be as formal as Wesley's Questions for Examiners:
- Do they know God? Have they the love of God abiding in them? Do they desire nothing but God? Are they holy in all manner of conversation?
- Have they gifts, as well as evidence of God's grace, for the work? Have they a clear, sound understanding; a right judgment in the things of God; a just conception of salvation by faith? Do they speak justly, readily, clearly?
- Have they fruit? Have any been truly convinced of sin and converted to God, and are believers edified by their service?
As long as these marks occur in them, we believe they are called of God to serve. These we receive as sufficient proof that they are moved by the Holy Spirit. (¶ 310, 2004 Book of Discipline)
According to the GBOD, the questions can include such as the following:
- How have you experienced the presence of God in your ministry?
- How would you describe your understanding of God, Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you see your work as a certified lay minister as a calling from God?
- What gifts, skills, and abilities do you bring to certified lay ministry?
- Describe the covenant for ministry you have for ministry in your setting?
- Is this covenant carried out in partnership with a ministry team?
- What is your role in meeting the sacramental needs of the congregation?
- What have been your greatest accomplishments as a pastoral leader?
- Where does your ministry need to be strengthened?
- What are your plans for ongoing education to maintain your effectiveness in ministry?
I must say that the Victoria District Committee on Ordained Ministry was quite merciful and gracious to me when I met with them. I appreciated that. More so, they were supportive and eager to see me continue my work. It was a great experience and helped validate the months of work.
Assuming that the Committee certifies you, your assignment will be reconfirmed and you will continue your work. The Victoria District requires that I report annually as to my continuing education and service. A Certified Lay Minister must apply for recertification biannually according to the Discipline. The recertification requires a recommendation by your church counsel, your church conference or charge conference where assigned, a recommendation by the District Superintendent and completion of “an approved continuing education event”. There is just about no guidance from the GBOD or the Southwest Texas conference as to what constitutes an approved event. I have interpreted the requirement to mean that the Certified Lay Minister with his or her clergy mentor submit proposed seminars or training events to the chair person of the District Committee on Ordained Ministry for approval. After the required materials are submitted, the Certified Lay Minister is to schedule a meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry.