by Derek Lang
“Does everyone go to heaven?” “Does God know the future?” “Should Methodists believe the end of the World?” These questions might seem sacrilegious, but they were some of the questions that we grappled with in our first Conference Lay Minister (CLayM) training session. CLayM is a program for laity wishing to further their training in ministry. It was started about 20 years ago to develop volunteer ministers to pastor churches that could not otherwise afford a minister. There are 105 CLayM graduates in the Cal-Nevada Conference, but only about 25% are pastoring churches. The other 75% are serving their local churches as “ordinary” lay persons.
I am enrolled in the CLayM@home program, so much of the training is done via video and submitting answers to questions via e-mail (basically a contemporary correspondence course). We also have two all-weekend retreats. Though I am still discerning where God is leading me in this new direction of faith, the clincher in deciding to take this training was the set of topics that we would cover. For example, our video topics to date included church history, Wesleyan theology, the Bible, and planning worship. Regardless of whether I pastor a church later, teach Sunday School, lead a Small Group, or help with worship, these topics were relevant.
This past weekend was our first retreat. We covered the topic of Call, equipping for ministry, and spiritual disciplines. In our church, many of us have done Spiritual Gifts inventories. But there are other types of “spiritual personality” tests and analyses to better understand how people lead and/or engage in ministry. For example, one evaluated spiritual gifts, leadership/interaction styles, spirituality types, and task types. Spirituality webs were a way to classify individuals and congregations as head, heart, pilgrim, mystic, servant, and crusader. We were encouraged to investigate family systems theory as a corollary to church dynamics. We were also given many resources and references on preaching, Wesleyan theology, finances, faith-sharing, pastoring the ill, and leadership. I will put several of these books in our library once I get through the program.
The second day was spent with Rev. Steve Creel of Visalia United Methodist Church on preaching. I assumed that it would be a whole day of lectures. Needless to say, I was wrong. We started immediately with an exercise where he gave us a topic and 2 minutes to come up with a short sermon/message. My first one was giving a sermon on the wages of sin after a single woman pregnant out of wedlock asked me to give her guidance after worship about aborting the baby. I managed to get through that one unscathed. But was not so fortunate when we had to give the bulk of a sermon we would need to write for our next retreat. Our CLayM coordinator warned us that Steve was the equivalent of American Idol’s Simon Cowell for preaching. We had 1 hour to prepare, and everyone got very pointed remarks (yours truly was no exception). But we did learn a few things about our role as preachers and techniques in structuring concise, meaningful sermons. We will see how that translates into actual preaching!
I think the most inspiring part of the weekend was spending time with the other CLayM trainees. Everyone had such a passion for ministry and spreading the Good News to the world. The word “evangelism” seemed intrinsic to everyone’s ministry. It was not a matter of “we have to attract people to church to stay alive,” rather, they saw the hurts of the world and were driven by the Call to offer hope and healing to the world.