Lay servants, certification prepare and enhance leaders

July 03, 2012

By: Amanda Yanchury

This year, the United Methodist office of Lay Speaking got a new name: Lay Servants.

“God calls each of us to use our gifts and graces and how we use them is up to each of us,” says Mary jo Dahlberg, a Minnesota certified lay speaker. “People can come and take [lay servant] courses and realize their gifts and how they may be able to use them.”

Lay ministry is about “teaching, serving, training, participating, caring, loving and communicating,” Dahlberg says. These are the principles she uses when teaching the basic lay speaker course.

United Methodist General Conference 2012 renamed the ministry because the responsibilities of a lay speaker have expanded beyond speaking.

“It used to be that a lay speaker’s main responsibility was to provide pulpit supply for pastors who were on vacation or otherwise unavailable,” Dahlberg says. “Now, lay speakers hold a wide variety of different roles within their churches, and the name change reflects that.”

Lay servants are to be well informed on and committed to the Scriptures and United Methodist doctrine, heritage, organization, and life, and have received lay servants training offered through their district or conference, The Book of Discipline explains (paragraph 266). Their leadership should inspire the congregation to deeper commitment to Christ.

“Experience in lay speaking ministries has helped me explore his communication and leadership skills and to put them to use by sharing my faith journey story,” said Bob Newman, a lay speaker and member of Advent United Methodist Church in Eagan.  “Because of the training, I am also able to help others interpret and follow their spiritual calls.”

To become a lay servant, one must obtain a letter of recommendation from a clergyperson or church administrative council and take a basic lay servant course offered through the Minnesota Annual Conference. Those who complete that course may take any advanced lay servant course and seek certification from the district committee on lay servants.  Certified lay servants are expected to take a “refresher course” every three years.

Find the schedule of upcoming lay servant training events here:

Certification studies

Those who don’t feel called to lay servant ministries but who work in a specialized ministry area may pursue ministry certification. This is available to lay and clergy.

Professional certification reflects the United Methodist Church’s recognition “that an individual has been called, made a commitment to serve, and has fulfilled the required standards for academic training, experience, and study to serve with excellence in an area of specialized ministry,” according to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which oversees most of the certification areas.

Those working in camp/retreat ministry, children’s ministry, Christian education, evangelism, ministry with the poor, music ministry, older adult ministry, spiritual formation, urban ministry, or youth ministry can pursue GBHEM certification. Those working in Christian communication ministry can pursue certification through the United Methodist Association of Communicators.

Certification requires meeting academic and other standards. To retain certification, one must take continuing education and apply for certification renewal every two years.

According to Rev. Rhodie Jacobson, who keeps certification records for Minnesota, ministry certification provides people working in those areas credentials and tools for ministry.

It shows a commitment to the field, he says. For example, certified individuals who might apply for a church minister of music position demonstrate commitment to growing and developing skills in that field. Certification is a sign that the person is knowledgeable, responsible, and accountable.

Find information about lay servant ministries and specialized ministry certification here:

Amanda Yanchury is communications assistant for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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