Thursday, July 24, 2008

There is no such thing as a lay minister

Over on Weedon's Blog he asks the question if the LCMS will end up ordaining women. In the comments, this moved briefly to a discussion of Augustana XIV - that we do not allow anyone to preach or teach unless they are "rite vocatus" - ritely called, called according to the rites and customs of the Church.

There are many folks who are dubious of "lay ministers" and worry greatly as to whether or not this violates Augustana XIV. This is what I am going to write about. As a note and a caveat - read through this entirely, jump not to conclusions.

There is no such thing as a lay minister.

And by this I don't mean that if you are a so-called "lay minister" that you aren't really a minister. Rather this - if you are a "lay minister" one of two things has happened -

1. You have been called to preach and administer the sacraments at a congregation - even if only as a back-up plan.
2. You have been called to assist in educational and organizational affairs at a congregation while someone else preaches and administers the sacrament.

If it is option 1 - you are no longer "lay". You are a pastor. Period. There is nothing lay about it. If the town sheriff decides he needs extra help and makes me his deputy, I am an officer of the law. Period. All the duties and responsibilities of that office are now mine and I am to act in accordance with it. Period.

If it is option 2 - you are not a "minister" in the classic, traditional sense of belonging to the Pastorate. You might be a teacher, or a DC_, or even a Deaconess - and that's what you are supposed to do - but you aren't a minister. You don't have the responsibility of administering the Sacraments - hence, not a "minister" - cause that's what that refers to, in the classic sense.

So, why do we use the term "lay minister" when the person is question is either no longer lay or no longer a minister? Probably because we want to make a distinction between those who have received formal education at a Seminary or Synodical College and those who haven't - who are (for lack of a better term) deputized into their office.

I'm not defined by my Seminary education. That isn't what makes me a pastor. I am a pastor because I have been called and ordained - and ordination isn't just a rite or a title - it is having the Church at large acknowledge that I am supposed to be in the office I am in. You can call it "consecrating" a "lay" minister if you want - but you are still placing them under orders.

No, why do we have it? I don't know. Maybe it's because we simply don't want to pay some folks a pastor's wage, so we can skirt around it if we call them "lay". If they are "lay" we don't feel bad if they have to have another job to make ends meet. Maybe it's a matter of we don't want larger congregations to in any way help or support their smaller sister congregations - so instead of helping a small congregation to have a pastor with a Seminary training, we tell them to just go with this. Maybe smaller congregations are tired of guys who are there for 2 years and then move off to "bigger and better" things - so they get one of their own to be their pastor. Maybe there are pastors who want to create a two-tiered system of clergy so they can feel superior to other folks.

Whatever the reason - and whether or not it is wise to lower educational standards for church workers (both pastors and the commissioned) - we should be honest with our terminology and not treat these people as anything less than they are. Some of them are pastors - some are DCEs or Deaconnesses - and whatever they are, they have less training that others who are thrust into their position. Keep them in your prayers, offer your guidance when you can, invite them to studies which you lead.

P.S. What about Augustana XIV? This doesn't violate it - why? Because, they don't assume this mantle (eh, see, reference to Elisha taking up Elijah's cloak, or mantle) themselves. AC XIV is speaking primarily against the Anabaptists and the like where one simply decides that he will be a preacher now. "Lay ministers" don't do that.


William Weedon said...

Just a point of clarification: do not those occupying the office of the holy ministry remain part of the laos of God? I think you make a mistake in making them categories that are discreet. It is a smaller circle inside a larger one. Not all of God's laos are pastors, but all of God's pastors are members of His laos.

William Weedon said...

Which, by the way, doesn't disagree at all with the silliness of the term "lay minister."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Yes, they remain within the people of God - just as the President of the United States is still a citizen - but because of his office, there are expectations and duties above and beyond what is expected of other citizens. He's right to call us his fellow Americans, but he's the one who gets to ride around de jure in Air Force 1.

Pastor D said...

Because of a 'functional' view of ministry in many respects WLS might ordain their first lady before LCMS...don't know if I'll see it in my life time. If it happens I'm outta here and will be applying for a job of mowing the grass and 610 W Adison St. in about reducing stress! Sweet!