“These people are valuable,” Stair says of trained, certified lay ministers. “They’re like another arm of the church.”
Holston Conference's next round of Lay Servant Ministries training begins Saturday, Feb. 27 and continues on Saturdays through May 1, excluding April 3 on Easter weekend. The classes will be offered online.
As director of Holston's lay servant ministries training, Stair recently announced the class schedule, which includes seven different topics taught by leaders in each of Holston’s nine districts.
The topics begin with “Basic Course” on February 27 and follow with “Polity, “Spiritual Gifts,” “Heritage,” “Preaching,” “Worship,” and “Prayer.”
All classes begin at 9 a.m. The cost is $10 per class, plus the cost of the book.
Stair, who has served as a lay speaker since 1984, said clergy can greatly benefit from the assistance of lay members trained to serve as servants, speakers and ministers. Those who achieve Certified Lay Minister status commit to serving a minimum of 10 hours a week – without pay, unless they’re hired as staff.
“Lay servant training promotes people into serving in the kingdom of God,” Stair said. “It’s all about the kingdom.”
Lay servants have the opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ who then go and make other disciples. The United Methodist Book of Discipline states:
The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.
In Holston Conference, lay servant training has traditionally been offered at least twice a year, typically in designated locations within each district. Since fall 2020, the classes have been offered through Zoom to prevent spread of COVID-19.
In fall 2020, 173 participated in online lay servant training, Stair said. The 2020 Holston Conference Journal lists 103 active Certified Lay Ministers who have completed all training. Some are serving as lay pastors or church staff.
Students may be trained and certified as Lay Servants, Lay Speakers, or Lay Ministers with varying qualifications.
A Certified Lay Minister, for example, “is called and equipped to conduct public worship, care for the congregation, assist in program leadership, develop new and existing faith communities, preach the Word, lead small groups, or establish community outreach ministries as part of a ministry team with the supervision and support of a clergyperson,” according to United Methodist Discipleship’s 2020 lay servant ministries catalog.
After serving as lay ministers, some feel called go on to local pastor licensing school or seminary on the path to becoming clergy, Stair said.
Brandy Williams is a certified lay speaker who completed her training in 2016. Currently serving as administrative assistant in the Holston Conference clergy services office, she said the training “has helped me tremendously in the seat I’m in.”
Training and certification prepares lay members to handle many roles in their churches and to help their pastors, Williams said.
“It’s hard for pastors to cover all the bases they’re trying to cover right now,” she said. “Training teaches lay members how to handle problems in a Methodist way, not in a worldly way.” Williams is a member at Powell United Methodist Church in Powell, Tennessee.
Samantha Johnson is also a certified lay speaker who completed training in 2016.
“I was answering a call to do more in the church, but I don’t feel called to be a pastor,” said Johnson, an accountant. She occasionally preaches at her home church, Trinity United Methodist in Knoxville, as well as Pleasant Grove United Methodist in Luttrell, Tennessee.
Although many students and teachers in the online classes are anxious to get back to in-person training when it’s safe to do so, Stair said others prefer the online classes to driving “miles and miles” to attend the nearest class offered.
“I look for some of our districts to make [online classes for lay ministries] a way of life,” Stair said. “If we don’t go forward with technology then we’ll go backwards.”
For the schedule and registration information, see Lay Servant Training goes online.
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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.