Two weeks ago, Velda Maine would have told you that the thought of delivering a sermon to her congregation made her very nervous.
Thanks to a lay speaking certification retreat on March 6-8, that’s no longer the case. In fact, she led the whole worship service last Sunday at her home church, Luverne United Methodist. Not only did she receive positive feedback about her sermon, but she felt confident delivering it, and she looks forward to the next time she has an opportunity to preach.
“Pulpit supply is so hard to fill,” said Maine. “This is just one more way that I can honor God’s kingdom and do the work that God calls us to do.”
Maine was one of 32 United Methodist lay people from across Minnesota who gathered at Koronis Ministries in early March to become trained and certified lay speakers. All had previously been certified as lay speakers, but the 2012 Book of Discipline changed the requirement for lay speaking. So the Minnesota Conference’s Laity Action Team, which is in the process of reshaping lay servant ministry training, decided to offer the training through a single weekend retreat rather than expecting people to take the six required courses at six different times.
Some of the people at the training have been lay speakers for several decades. But others, like Maine, are new to this type of ministry. Lay speakers can preach at their own local churches and others.
Topics covered ranged from telling one’s faith story to United Methodist beliefs and practices to leading worship that invites people into the presence of God. Rev. Tom Biatek of Albert Lea UMC, Rev. Dr. David Bard of First UMC in Duluth, and Minnesota Conference Director of Ministries, Rev. Cindy Gregorson, all led teaching sessions.
“The biggest thing I came away with was that I am a vessel of God’s word,” said Maine. “It’s not about you. You’re here to do God’s work, and when you’re up there speaking, you’re not alone. You have this whole cloud of witnesses and support beside you.”
Maine said some worship services feel sterile; attendees go through the motions of singing, praying, and hearing the message, but they aren’t really engaged. She wants to make sure the services she leads engage people and leave them nourished and inspired.
Part of the training focused on experiential worship—how to help people not only hear what’s being said but also see it and feel it through the use of visuals, technology, and radical hospitality. She used some of what she learned last Sunday by asking members of the congregation to close their eyes and picture what she was discussing in her sermon—and by introducing a newcomer in a prayer circle at the end of worship. He later told her he’d never in his life felt so welcomed at a church.
After learning from the presenters, each person at the training was asked to prepare and deliver a short sermon before a small group and receive feedback. Maine preached on sacrifice and based her message on John 3:14-17; it was essentially a practice round for the message she delivered last Sunday. Because of what she’d learned in the training, she felt so prepared to speak that she offered to go first.
To complete the lay speaking course, participants will read a book of their choice on preaching or worship, submit a short report, write and submit their personal faith story, and video tape a short sermon for evaluation and feedback from the conference’s Laity Action Team.
Maine said she has long felt a call to serve her church and others in deeper ways. But it wasn’t until she lost her job two years ago that she took time to explore that call through quiet time, reflection, and discussions with her pastor.
“I found out that church is where I’m the very happiest being,” she said. She urges all lay people to think about how God is calling them to build the kingdom, whether it's through lay speaking or another ministry opportunity.
The entry point for all lay servant ministries is a one-day ministry discernment retreat. Those who complete it are equipped to serve their own church in a leadership role. They also have the option to go through additional training to become certified lay servants (who can lead in their own local church and others), lay speakers (like Maine), or certified lay ministers (who can be appointed to lead a particular church or ministry within an annual conference). To learn more about lay servant ministry opportunities, click here.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church