At baptism, all the children of God are given the privilege and responsibility to participate in worship. That privilege is most clearly carried out in the congregation when the people of God assemble to receive God’s grace in Word and Sacrament, and to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. In that assembly, God reliably offers God’s love and forgiveness. The assembly is active in worship. The gathered worshipers sing, speak, listen, respond, pray, eat, offer, share, reconcile, stand, sit, and kneel. The primary responsibility for worship lies in this assembly of the baptized.
A worship assembly is not chaotic. It requires people with specific skills and responsibilities to lead and facilitate its worship. A called pastor serves as presiding minister (see Augsburg Confession Article 7). They have specific responsibilities regarding preaching and the celebration of the sacraments. Just like someone skilled at chairing a meeting, the presiding minister gets the liturgy started, exercises his or her unique responsibilities throughout, and brings it to an appropriate close. Beyond that, the role of a presider, whether at a meeting or a liturgy, is to be a transparent facilitator, enabling everyone else to participate as they ought and are able.
For many centuries, worship was often a "one-man show." Lay people were seen as little more than spectators. An uninvolved laity is completely contrary to very meaning of the word liturgy, which means "the work of the people." All of God’s baptized children have a role in worship that includes both leadership and participation.
Evangelical Lutheran Worship encourages the leadership of trained laypeople along with the pastor in liturgical celebrations. The orders of service in Evangelical Lutheran Worship identfy the person leading worship as the presiding minister, when that person is normally an ordained pastor, and as the leader, when that person may be lay or ordained. Assisting minsiters are usually lay people who are selected to carry out other roles in worship such as the readings and the prayers of interession. Based on their skills, talents, understanding, and interest, assisting ministers need to be chosen and trained carefully.
The Holy Communion liturgy offers the following opportunities for the leadership of lay leaders:
Kyrie and Hymn of Praise
Both the petitions of the Kyrie and the intro lines to some settings of "Glory to God" or "This is the feast" may be led by a lay assisting minister. Unless the assisting minister serving in the chancel is a skilled and confident singer, he or she need not sing these parts. The parts can be sung by someone else, perhaps a choir member, from his or her place in the choir near the organ or piano.
The intercessory prayers (between the sermon and communion) are different from prayers common to the whole church (such as the prayer of the day), which are led by the presiding minister. Intercessions should be composed for and prayed by a particular faith community. They begin with general topics (the whole church and world) and lead into very personal concerns (the sick and dying in this place). They are written and led by a lay representative of that particular assembly, trained for this ministry.
Offertory and Post-Communion Prayers
As offerings are presented and immediately after communion, a lay assisting minister, representing the community, bids all to pray, encouraging them to offer all that they are to God and, strengthened by the sacrament, to use their lives to further God’s mission in the world.
After the presiding minister announces God’s blessing, laypeople have the final word: "Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God." This simple dialog reinforces a Lutheran understanding of the priesthood of all believers. The mission of the church is the responsibility of all the baptized.
Although they are not specifically indicated in the printed liturgy, several other roles ought to be carried out by laypeople:
- One of the results of the Reformation was to make scripture accessible again to all the people of God. This is demonstrated publicly by having the first and second readings proclaimed by laypeople. The reading from the Gospel is done by whoever is preaching; therefore, it is usually done by a pastor or diaconal minister.
- Another indication that liturgy is the activity of all the baptized is including laypeople in the distribution of Holy Communion. Usually, the presiding minister serves the bread followed by an assisting minister with the cup.
- The assisting minister can help the presiding minister throughout the liturgy by setting the altar for communion, holding books, turning pages, and so forth. These tasks vary from place to place, depending on architecture and the size of the assembly, as well as the style and extent of ceremony.
There are many other tasks that laypeople do regularly on behalf of a worshiping community. Although they may not be vested and visible to a congregation during worship, they are indeed assisting ministers and should be understood and treated in that way. Assisting ministers might include acolytes and other servers, ministers of hospitality (such as ushers, greeters, those who attend the parking lot, and those who serve refreshments), the altar guild, musicians, seamstresses and other artisans, worship planners, intercession writers, bread bakers, the cleaning staff, those who care for the yard and remove snow, those who provide nursery care and a host of others. Congregations should take all these duties seriously and treat them as liturgical ministries, providing regular training, support, and public recognition.