A Road to Clarification: Certified lay ministry

There has been a lot of confusion on what constitutes certified lay ministry, in particular the distinction between lay servant, certified lay servant, certified lay speaker and certified lay minister. And this confusion is shared not only by lay people who try to get a handle on the terminology, but also by pastors, district superintendents, and directors of connectional ministries.

This is one reason why many leaders, including conference lay leaders, are welcoming petitions that reference certified lay ministry in the Book of Discipline. A number of petitions have been submitted with the goal of more clearly defining the concept and requirements for each category of certified lay ministry and clarifying the terminology.

Before the legislative process began, I had an opportunity to talk with several conference lay leaders about what they hope to see accomplished through the petitions on certified lay ministry.

Peg Plimpton, Conference Lay Leader of the Yellowstone Annual Conference, hopes to clarify the lay servant and lay speaker descriptions so that both clergy and laity better understand the objectives of these positions.  Plimpton emphasizes the importance of the role of a mentor for certified lay speakers.  She says, “One detail that matters to laity is that certified lay speakers (CLS) who are assigned to serve a small local congregation MUST be given a mentor who understands that their responsibility is to provide sacraments to the small congregation and to mentor the CLS.” 

She expresses her concern around certified lay servants.  “They must not be placed only under District Committees of Ordained Ministry (DCOM) but ought to be under the supervision of the Conference Lay minister/speaker structured authority in cooperation with the DCOM.”

Margaret Hotze, Conference Co-lay Leader of the Rocky Mountain Conference, shares a similar hope.  She says, “When the category of lay servants was created, many people were confused. Therefore, I support the material prepared and submitted by Discipleship Ministries regarding these three categories.  They have listened to many concerns and prepared these petitions with care.”

Hotze also shared that these petitions from the Discipleship Ministries have been affirmed by the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders and the Association of Directors of Lay Servants.  She said, “I want to see them approved.” 

David Reinholz, Conference Associate Lay Leader of the Pacific Northwest Conference, says, “My hope for the Discipleship Ministries committee and their proposed legislation is that the changes to Lay Servant Ministries would pass.  These petitions go a long way toward reducing the confusion surrounding the definition and requirements for lay servant, lay speaker, and lay minister.”  Reinholz adds, “I think the changes to youth and young adult representation are valid and necessary.” 

Observing the Legislative Committee on Discipleship, where these petitions are lodged, I witnessed this strong desire for clarity to be shared by many.  The sub-committee handling the petitions for certified lay ministry received excellent support from its members and consequently adopted the clarified language with overwhelmingly affirmative votes.    

Many conferences are already doing good work in lay ministry, even in the midst of this confusion.  Now, we are hopeful that through the clarified definition and requirements, even more lay people will explore their call to leadership in their church congregation and community.

Kang is Director of Mission and Ministry for the Rocky Mountain Conference.

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