Called to be a lay servant
January 31, 2018 / By Lucina Hallagan, UNY Conference Director of Lay Servant Ministries
I became a lay servant in 1991 because I was encouraged by my pastor to attend a lay servant basic course held at Casowasco Camp & Retreat Center. I have always felt a pull to ordained ministry; however, I was never able to begin the process. All the while, for years really, I still had this deep longing and felt that God was calling me to something. I continued to lead worship several times a year, when asked, at my local church and around the District. Every time I would lead worship I would have at least one person approach me afterward and say, “you have missed your calling.” A part of me believed this too.
One day, I was reading the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. At the end of the story, the man who was healed begged to follow Jesus and travel with him, but Jesus said no. “No, go home and tell everyone about the wonderful thing the Lord has done for you.” (Luke 8:39). At that moment I felt like God had whispered to me, “no, not the path you are thinking about, but I have a different path for you … to work with and for the laity.” I began to embrace the “no” and look for God’s “yes” to me. It was the year before the Upper New York Conference was formed. District lines were redrawn; new leadership was needed; new teams were forming and new legislation around Lay Servant Ministries was in the works. I was asked to serve and I said, “Yes!”
Now, when someone tells me I have missed my calling, I smile and thank them. Then, I assure them that I am right where God is calling me to be – serving the laity of Upper New York and sharing the wonderful things that God has done for me. It’s amazing to play an important role in clergy and laity working together – equipping disciples so that the world is changed. I am so grateful that God has placed me in a position to help laity in their discipleship to Jesus Christ as we work, hand in hand with the clergy, to transform the world through his love.
Lay Servant Ministries is one of the most significant lay leadership development programs already available within the United Methodist connection. Through this system of equipping and empowering, lay servants have the opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ who then go and make other disciples.
A certified lay servant, lay speaker, or lay minister is a professing member of a local church who desires to serve the church and who knows and is committed to Scripture and the doctrine, heritage, organization, and life of The United Methodist Church. This is a person who has received specific training to witness the Christian faith through spoken communication, to lead within a church and community, and to provide caring ministries.
Lay Servant Ministries offers a variety of courses to equip the laity for leadership. The courses are not for lay servants only – they are open to all. Courses range from United Methodist History to Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts, Storytelling, to Leading in Prayer, Preaching to United Methodist Polity, Growing Spiritually through Daily Discipline, to Conflict Resolution, and many more. There is something for everyone.
Upper New York has over 800 Certified Lay Servants, 26 Certified Lay Speakers, and 76 Certified Lay Ministers. Lay Servant Ministries are serving as disciples of Jesus Christ in more ways than you can imagine.
At a conference I attended I had the opportunity to speak with many lay servants. One gentleman told me about how he goes to a nearby prison once a week and leads a bible study for inmates. Through this ministry, he is answering a call to become a prison chaplain – as a Certified Lay Minister. A woman told me how she, at the request of her pastor, takes the communion elements to the local nursing homes and hospital every communion Sunday. While there, she prays for and with all of the people she gives communion to. She told me how she had taken the Leading Prayer Lay Servant course recently and how it helped ease her fears about praying publically, how it gave her new insights about ways to pray, and how grateful she was for taking it. I have had many local pastors and elders tell me that they began to hear their call to ordained ministry through lay servant ministries.
Some Lay Servants do lead worship and preach the Word, but more often than not, we serve the body in other areas of leadership and caring ministries. Food pantries, community dinners, mission projects, prayer ministries, small-group leadership, event planning and organization, and the list goes on. Without any doubt, the lay servants are active “doers” in most congregations.