by Linda Ryan
Education for Ministry is a four-year program of theological education designed for the laity, a kind of seminary for people who want to know more than maybe a Bible study could provide, but who do not feel a call to be ordained. Not only is there in-depth study of the Old and New Testaments, but also Church History and theology, the study of God. It is also a spiritual program in which learning to think theologically and to recognize the opportunity to be a minister, a person of service to others is preeminent. We are all intended and commissioned to be ministers through our baptismal covenant, and reaffirmed by our confirmation or reaffirmations. In those covenants we commit to live lives outlined by the vows, and that includes ministry.
One of my yearly joys is attending the three-day training session to re-certify me to mentor for the Education for Ministry (EfM) With that learning and the recertification, I will be back to my groups fall and give them tastes of what I’ve experienced and hopefully help them learn to see their own ministries more clearly.
The hardest things for a lot of people both in and out of EFM to understand is that ministry is not limited to those people who are ordained or have specific jobs within the church, like the Sunday school teacher, organist/choirmaster, altar guild, or the vestry. Ministry is what we do when we go out into the world just as much as we do more within the walls of the church. It is counterintuitive to think that at the job in which we are engaged every day could be seen as a ministry but it can present that challenge. The opportunity for ministry comes when there is a challenge we see, hear, or experience, and the ministry is when we respond. Often we do it almost without thinking, just simply responding to a need, but that doesn’t diminish the ministry at all. It’s a Christ-like moment.
EfM teaches us to look at the world through the eyes of a Christian, a word that means “Little Christ.” We learn through practice and reflection to be more open to God and to our fellow human beings. We learn that there are three kinds of ministry, as identified by Charles Winters: Ministry to the church, ministry in the church, and ministry of the church.*
Ministry to the church applies to both the ordained and some lay persons. It includes the clergy- and lay-involvement in things such as worship, teaching, governance, and maintenance. It serves to care for the fabric of the church as well as ensure the proper things are done at the proper time in the proper way as described in the church constitution and the parish mission statement.
Ministry in the church is what we call “pastoral care.” It contributes to the support and guidance of the congregation, and is done by both clergy (counseling, sacraments, etc., by virtue of their ordination).) and lay leaders (like Eucharistic Ministers who are directed by the clergy to do certain ministries in the name of the church).
Ministry of the church is the calling of all of us to participate in the mission of the church by going out into the world and being Chris’s hands and voice. Our baptismal and confirmation/reaffirmation covenants and vows make it part of our duty as Christians to participate in bringing Christ’s message to the world, whether by evangelism or a work of mercy.
Winters also had a really profound thought in this paragraph from the same source::
It is equally difficult for many of us to realize that this ministry is not an elective. That is, it is not something that we do now and then. it is not even necessarily the good and redemptive things we do. It is the entire post-baptismal life, good and bad. At our baptisms we were made members of Christ. We are his hands, arms, legs, feet, mouth. Inescapably! At all times! In all places!
It is part of the job of EfM to help people learn what ministry is, how to do it, and to understand that it is part of what we are called to do, whether or not we hear a voice from heaven or just feel some sort of burning passion to help resolve something that is cracked or broken and needs to change. People can find their missions and ministries without EfM. Thousands do it every day, but thousands also have EfM to help with the process. In community we learn to look at life through different lenses than we had before, and also to be more aware of even small things that we can do to make Christ’s message known, even, as St. Francis put it, if we sometimes have to use words.
I hope what I’ve learned from this training seminar will help those in my groups to be able to identify and understand their places in the world, their ministries, and their passions. I think it has helped me to see the things I do in life that I never thought about as ministries in a new way. I’m looking forward to finding out what other things I can learn — with the help of those in my groups for whom I act as both mentor and fellow learner. That’s the great thing about EfM. We all learn from each other, and we never have to have all the answers; sometimes ambiguity can be a very good thing. We just learn to trust God to set us straight on the crooked path we call life.
I’m learning to answer the question, “Me? A minister?” in the affirmative. On reflection, it really isn’t that hard. Give it a try.
*”Three Kinds of Ministry” by Charles Winters; handout from Education for Ministry.