The Laity in The Michigan Conference have opportunities for certification through the Lay Servant Ministries program. Training is now online. Jody Pratt explains.
Michigan Conference Co-Director for Lay Servant Ministries
“Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? He’s here in plain view. “These words from a song my pastor introduced at Middleville United Methodist Church resonate with me as I think of lay servants. As you watch lay servants work in our churches and communities, they are there in plain view!
These words remind us to do the ministry to which each believer is called. Over the years of responding to my call, I have been blessed to serve in the Midwest District( former Grand Rapids), West Michigan Conference, and now as co-director of Michigan Conference Lay Servant Ministries with John Hart.
Christians are called to be in servant ministry, and that’s not always as clergy. In the denomination, laity constitute over 95% of United Methodist congregations and are called to work in many capacities in the local church. Laity are always looking to build relationships as disciples of Christ. As part of that journey, we also make disciples for Christ. One does not have to be “certified” to be a lay servant. Some individuals decide to receive more training to participate in a wider community of lay servants by earning certification(s). This may be certification as a lay servant, lay speaker, lay missioner, or lay minister, always in plain view.
Lay Servant Ministries programs are based on the concept that the witness of the laity should present Christ-like examples of everyday living, sharing faith experiences, and discipleship that leads others to Christ. Churches could not operate without laity. Outreach activities would be limited, and pastoral support would not exist.
Providing lay servant instruction during the COVID crisis was challenging. Yes, in-person workshops or a hybrid model using in-person instruction and technology build relationships best. But life has changed, and our teaching opportunities have changed, too. District committees looked for alternative ways to provide education during this time of uncertainty. Districts have stepped up to the challenge. In 2021, our zoom/hybrid class participation has drawn people from various regions, lending diversity to the discussion.
Certification in Lay Servant Ministries builds on experience, course work, and applied learning. In the Michigan Conference:
- Everyone starts with the Basic class, and each participant can determine the next steps as it fits their personal schedule and discipleship path. After taking a second class, one can become a Certified Lay Servant. A Certified Lay Servant continues learning, taking a class every three years to maintain his or her certification.
- Certified Lay Speakers must complete six classes and meet with their district committee on Lay Servant Ministries before becoming certified by the Michigan Conference Lay Servant Committee.
- A Certified Lay Minister must be a Certified Lay Speaker and complete four modules of additional instruction. Certification is complete after meeting with the district committees on Ordained Ministry and Lay Servant Ministries.
Colleen Wierman is co-chair of the Northern Waters District Committee on Lay Servant Ministries. She went through the Lay Servant process and is currently Kingsley United Methodist Church. She speaks of how lay servant training prepared her for the role God had planned for her. “Certainly, there is work involved if an individual desires certification, and it is not for everyone. It requires a time commitment, intense study, and Christian community building to do the work we are called to do as Lay Servants.”
Some may believe the process is too difficult. Certification may not be the “right step” for every layman or laywoman. It is important to remember that all baptized Christians are lay servants. Some laity make the individual decision to engage in an additional level of learning and credentialing.
Lay Servant Ministries is working to include participants speaking languages other than English. As part of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries, 18 participants are currently in a Lay Missioner training held jointly with the Michigan and Minnesota conferences. Sonya Luna, Coordinator of Latinx Ministries in Michigan, is a leader in this effort. These lay participants are being trained in the local ministry programs. They will then work to develop ministries in the Spanish-speaking communities of The United Methodist Church. I was honored and humbled to attend the Encuentro Uno ( all in Spanish ). Discipleship Ministries offers materials in languages Spanish, Korean, and French. The Greater Detroit District offers classes in Korean and French. Contact Director Sharon Appling for details.
The United Methodist Church, through Discipleship Ministries, provides consistency of the certification process. This enables individuals to move between states, although there may be additional conference requirements for gaining or maintaining certification. The Michigan Conference has a presence at the national level of Lay Servant Ministries. I am part of an advisory group that responds to questions relating to certification. Recently someone asked whether a person seeking to become a Lay Servant or Lay Speaker needs to have a background check before becoming certified. Research found that most states do not require background checks, but some are considering doing so.
Are you interested in witnessing for Jesus in plain view as a certified layperson? If so, please feel free to contact your conference or district lay servant volunteers.
Central Bay: Merry Henderson
Greater Detroit: Sharon Appling
Greater Southwest: Dana Tipken
Midwest: Sara Wolfsen
Mid-Michigan: Randy Coller
Northern Skies: Liane Callow
In The Michigan Conference, we are also blessed to have Laura Witkowski, Associate Director for Lay Leadership Development, who works closely with directors providing support as needed. Additional information is available on the Lay Servant Ministries website.
Lay Servant certification takes commitment. There are also challenges. The certification process has changed since 2016, so there’s been an ongoing effort to educate laity and clergy about those changes. Challenges and commitment are nothing new. The disciples spent time learning at the feet of Jesus. He sent them out, with few possessions, to be part of a faith community. They witnessed in plain view for all to see and hear. Our greatest accomplishments as laity are not in the pews but the world. We go out to all people, using the skills we have learned in several languages, to make disciples for Christ.