Grace and peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jeremiah, although often called the weeping prophet, says in Lamentations 3:22-24: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” In this New Year of 2018, may you see his love and faithfulness every day and may you share that hope with those you encounter on your journey.
I welcome new District Directors Claudia Emken and Lester Graham, Spoon River District; RC Merten, Kaskaskia River District; Amy Smith, Vermilion River District; Lori Sparks, Embarras River District; and Kim Wade, Illinois River District. I also thank previous directors Tom Compton, Lynn Heisel, Linda Michel, Rose Straetor, and Lisa Unger for their leadership and service in their districts and on the Conference Committee.
I have been reading the 2017 lay servant annual reports. I know that submitting the report online was not easy for everyone, and that there were a few glitches, but thank you for helping us implement this new procedure. I am amazed at the number of ways you communicate, care, and lead in your churches and beyond, sharing the gospel, making disciples, and transforming the world.
I appreciate the recommendations offered on how to improve Lay Servant Ministries. Since some issues were raised on more than one report, I thought I would take this opportunity to share them.
I understand that the changes to the Lay Servant Ministries program over the last two General Conferences have been confusing to some and frustrating to others. But, like it or not, General Conference is the body in the UMC with legislative powers over the connection as a whole, including governance of Lay Servant Ministries. Lay Servant Ministries is resourced and overseen by Discipleship Ministries, and further defined, where allowed, by the Illinois Great Rivers Conference’s Lay Servant Ministries Organization and Policies.
In 2016 General Conference streamlined the categories in Lay Servant Ministries to three: Certified Lay Servant, Certified Lay Speaker, and Certified Lay Minister. Each category has qualifications, requirements, and opportunities as defined in the 2016 Book of Discipline, which we, as a Conference, have implemented. We have developed flow charts to help you to better understand the process for each category, which are available at https://www.igrc.org/layservant_about. Although we certainly aren’t lay servants because of a title, it is important to use the correct title, especially when you fill out your annual reports.
One of my responsibilities as Conference Director is to maintain the IGRC Lay Servant Ministries web site (https://www.igrc.org/layservant). You will find information about the program, upcoming courses, a list of Certified Lay Speakers, downloadable resources, calendar, and news. I update information, especially about courses, frequently, so check back often. If you find a broken link, error, etc., please let me know.
The IGRC site (https://www.igrc.org/) was recently updated and a few things have changed. To navigate from the main page to the Lay Servant Ministries page, click on “Get Involved” in the header and then on the right-hand side click on “Lay Servant Ministries.”
Offer more courses. Basic and advanced courses, except the modules for Certified Lay Minister, are offered by District Committees. Each district is to offer at least one basic and one advanced course each year, although most districts offer more opportunities. Remember, you can take a course in any IGRC district. If there is a particular course that you need/want to take, please contact your District Director with the request.
Offer other courses. After the change of requirements for [Certified] Lay Speaker in 2012, many of our districts focused on offering the courses needed for certification. Although those courses will still be offered on a regular basis, most districts will be offering additional advanced courses. More than 23 advanced courses have been developed by Discipleship Ministries that build skills in leading, communicating, and caring. New courses are being developed all the time. There is also the option of taking an alternative advanced course. Approved alternative courses are listed at https://www.igrc.org/alternativeadvancedcourses. Please note that you need prior approval of your District Director before enrolling in an alternative advanced course.
Offer more on-line courses. On-line courses are offered by BeADisciple.com. They offer a variety of classes year round, but not all of them “count” as an advanced course for Lay Servant Ministries. Also, an on-line course may only be used every other time for continuing education. The exception is for individuals who are working toward Certified Lay Speaker. Those individuals may take 4 courses on-line; preaching and one other required course must be taken face-to-face. Please check with your district director before signing up for an on-line class if you are taking it for continuing education.
Scheduling. There is no perfect time or perfect location for everyone. Some courses are multi-day, others over a weekend, and others on a Saturday. Our goal is to offer options in both time and location. Contact your district director if you have suggestions. Keep in mind, scheduling options are limited to the availability of instructors.
Communication can be defined as two-way process in which participants not only exchange information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In other words, better communication is a two-way street. If you have questions, problems, or suggestions, talk directly with your district director(s) or district committees. One suggestion was holding fellowship gatherings of lay servants. If one of your spiritual gifts is hospitality, perhaps you could volunteer to help plan such an event in your district. Someone also suggested that the Conference Director visit each district at least once a year. I will be happy to try to do so if invited.
Serving opportunities are virtually unlimited. If you feel that your gifts and graces are not being used or you feel called to explore new ministries, please talk with your pastor, your lay leader, your district director(s) of Lay Servant Ministries, or your district superintendent. We want you to have every opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, who then go and make other disciples.
May God do great things in and through you as you serve in his name in 2018.
Director, Lay Servant Ministries
Illinois Great Rivers Conference