Equipping and Encouraging Laity
by Nelvin L. Vos and Melvin D. George (May / June 2002 • Volume 18 • Number 3)
Congregations are finding ways to support the laity in their callings. Here are 23 ideas.
"Go in peace, serve the Lord."
With this, many Lutheran congregations end their services of worship, sending congregational members out into the world. During the next week, these Christians are living, working, making decisions, voting, and playing in an environment that some might consider thoroughly secular. Nevertheless, they are living in the world that "God so loved that he gave his only Son" for its redemption.
But, aside from these formulaic end-of-worship phrases, how do our congregations actually support and honor the ministries of their members in the weekday world?
The Constitution of the ELCA states: "This Church affirms the universal priesthood of all its baptized members. In its function and its structure this church commits itself to the equipping and supporting of all its members for their ministries in the world and in this church."(7.11).
Section 4.02 states the intent of the ELCA to "Nurture its members in the Word of God so as to grow in faith and hope and love, to see daily life as the primary setting for the exercise of their Christian calling, and to use the gifts of the Spirit for their life together and for their calling in the world" (emphasis authors').
Section 4.03 commits the ELCA to "encourage and equip all members...to fulfill their calling to serve God in the world." How (and how well) are our congregations doing these things?
What follows are 23 ideas which were gleaned from a survey, follow-up questionaire, and telephone interviews (see sidebar). They occurred within existing congregational structures and programs (e.g., confirmation, worship, visitation, and adult education) and are not "add-on" activities to the congregational calendar.
1. During worship on a regular basis, present a "Mission Minute" (a talk or perhaps a video) of someone's ministry in daily life.
2. Select a "Minister of the Week" who talks about his or her ministry during worship, and then that person's ministry is prayed for during the week. Include children as well as seniors.
3. Use workplace examples in sermons, perhaps gathered through workplace visits.
4. During Lenten services, have members give talks about a connection between a Beatitude and daily life or between a spiritual practice and daily life. This compels lay members to reflect on the intersections between their faith and daily life.
5. On certain occasions throughout the year, worship can center on an occupation which is recognized and affirmed, e.g., the Festival of St. Luke might feature health care. Or, on Labor Day, recognize members' occupations.
1. Hold an ongoing mentoring program for confirmands that lasts throughout the period of confirmation instruction. Adult mentors are trained, and they and their confirmand partners can go into the mentor's workplace, to the confirmand's workplace (or school or home), to a neo-natal unit, or to a cemetery.
Sharing faith stories is central (for example, a police officer/mentor talks with confirmands about the commandment "Thou shalt not steal"). The mentor also takes part in the service of confirmation, along with baptismal sponsor(s).
2. Ask confirmands to make a confirmation stole, with three symbols of faith on one side, and three symbols of activities in daily life on the other side.
1. Do regular pastoral visits in workplaces, in order to affirm laity and link Sunday worship to the workplace. Some pastors who do regular workplace visits have said: "They (e.g., parishioners) listen more intently because they know I care." "As you get to know the people, you find out how important their work is, so it is natural to visit them at work."
1. Conduct interviews with all new members to discern their gifts, leading to specific "callings" to areas of ministry where parishioners want to grow.
2. Introduce new members to the congregation, and add the location of their ministries in daily life.
3. Use books, such as Ministry in Daily Life, a Practical Guide for Congregations, by William Diehl (Betheseda, Maryland: The Alban Institute, Inc., 1996, $15, ISBN no. 1-56699-172-2, phone 800-486-1318) in adult classes to help members recognize their callings.
4. Offer "discipleship education" for all new members, after which other trained members sit down with graduates to discuss how and where they are serving or want to serve in daily life in the community, as well as in the congregation.
5. Set explicit expectations for new members, including their ministry in daily life.
1. Reflect ministry in daily life in the congregation's mission statement, e.g., "The Holy Spirit empowers us for ministry in daily life."
2. Where possible, have a Director of Member Ministries who helps people identify their gifts, visits workplaces, and works with staff to emphasize ministry in daily life in all the congregation's work.
3. Have a Shared Ministries Committee to include all members in some area of extended ministry.
4. Job descriptions of congregational staff, and their evaluations, should include emphasis on ministry in daily life.
1. Vision statements and stewardship emphasis can be vehicles for a focus on ministry in daily life. Consider a year's theme of "Everyone a Minister," which may include banners, T-shirts, and other paraphenalia.
2. Have a map of the community entitled "Where in the world is (name of church) Church?" with pins showing where members spend their time.
3. Make a slide show of the daily life ministries of members.
4. Present a "Duck Award." A duck head on a plunger is given monthly to someone who sticks his or her head out in faith in some activity in the world.
5. Use Splash materials and Connections (Augsburg Fortress) in the congregation. To order Splash, send a check for $14 to Splash!, DM, 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. To order Connections, call the Augsburg Fortress Distribution Center at 800-328-4648 ($45, complete leader package, order no. 6-0000-74050; individual items from the set can be ordered for $5.75 each).
6. Begin meetings with "What exciting thing happened in your ministry this week?"
These ideas from a few ELCA congregations reflect various ways of honoring God's people in the world and nurturing the daily life ministries of members.
This is a short list. We recognize that there are many other congregations that have a commitment to nurturing the ministries of their members in daily life. Hence, we invite a broader dialog in the church about these and other ways of nurturing the laos, the people of God, as they go about their callings in the family, neighborhood, school, workplace, recreation, and civic responsibilities.
Go in peace; serve the Lord.
MIDL Survey, Interviews Conducted
This story's list of ideas on how to encourage the laity in their callings came from work conducted by an informal group of persons who advise the ELCA on Ministry in Daily Life (MIDL).
Following a survey and questionaire, 35 congregations from across the U.S. were selected for telephone interviews.
This effort is part of the continuing work through the ELCA Division for Ministry on a Study of Ministry mandated by the 1993 Churchwide Assembly.
At the 1995 Churchwide Assembly, the division had featured "A Call to Action" as a partial response to the charge to arrange for a two-year period of theological reflection and action-reflection on the ministry of the baptized in the world.
We encourage you to contact Sally Simmel, Division for Ministry, ELCA, at email@example.com (or via regular mail at ELCA, 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631) to request further information about our survey results, or to share additional ideas of how you and your congregation can strengthen ministry in daily life.
Finally, visit the ELCA web site on ministry in daily life at www.elca.org/dm/midl for further resources–Nelvin L. Vos and Melvin D. George.
Nelvin L. Vos is a professor emeritus of English from Muhlenberg College and lives in Maxatawny, Pennsylvania. Melvin D. George, formerly president of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, currently lives in Columbia, Missouri.