How to Develop Your Lay Ministry

By Taken from the newsletter, Gifts

Lay Ministry may not as yet be a term commonly used or understood in your parish. There may be no Lay Ministry Committee or Program in place. And yet, you, and perhaps a few others you know, would like to - even feel called to-develop a ministry to others, to be of service to others in ways not encompassed by the present parish agenda.

The following article, written in a Roman Catholic newsletter for the laity, “Gifts,” gives some pointers on how you can begin to develop your own lay ministry, using the gifts and talents that God has given uniquely to you. Your initiative may, in fact, inspire others. Pay particular attention, however, to Pt. 5 to make sure that your efforts will be in harmony with the general parish program.

1. Reflect on the life experience you already have.

Married couples now work closely with pastors, helping engaged couples prepare for marriage and the post-honeymoon shocks. Your own sufferings, perhaps through a divorce, or a diagnosis of cancer, may eventually enable you to reach others with similar problems. Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer, explores this theme.

2. Develop one specific area of competence.

Since ministry is as broad as life itself, ministers face the occupational hazard of overextension and sometimes of dabbling in areas without sufficient knowledge. Assess needs around you and choose one which fits your talents, your `gift’ for ministry, your other responsibilities. For example, perhaps you could provide a support group for mothers of preschool children. Learn everything you can about effective parenting by tapping community `experts,’ by reading and attending workshops. Trust your own experience and invite others to share the work.

3. Make a path with your own footsteps.

Initiative is the trademark of lay ministers. The book on lay ministry hasn’t been written yet. There are few readymade job descriptions, or roles to play, yet if you can recognize unmet needs, the possibilities are endless. One woman with a handicapped child responds to calls from a hospital whenever a handicapped child is born; she speaks with the new mother in ways that a doctor or priest or husband might not imagine. A young man invited labor leaders and clergy to come together to discuss their common interests in just labor practices, so that bridges of communication could be built.

4. Build a support group, and keep growing with it.

Invite a group of other real estate sales-people or parents without partners or youth workers, and share your dreams and problems. Let the group develop its own agenda, grounded in the Gospel and a willingness to support each other. Hammer out the implications of the Christian life in your own arenas. The method of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) of observe, judge, and act, in companionship with a small group of committed Christians, has some untapped potential.

5. Complement the role of the priest; don’t merely imitate it.

The priest, by virtue of ordination, has a unique ministry in the [Catholic] community, providing its sacramental lifeblood. But in any community there are many needs which no one priest can meet. We don’t need lay men and women who want to be more clerical than the cleric, or `mini-priests’ who see their function only as `helping Father’ or competing with Father. Consult the pastor about parish needs, share your ideas, develop your own area of competence in a way which does not duplicate the ministries of others. You are called to minister by Baptism—wherever you find yourself—according to your own vocation and the unique `gift’ God has given his people through you.

6. Let your vision be as large as life itself.

Some people define ministry primarily as Church ministry, or some kind of direct, one on one service, such as visiting the sick. Remember, that is only one dimension of ministry. Today there are many [Catholics] in influential positions in government, business, education, the arts, social services—and yet their organizations or systems sometimes initiate or maintain unjust practices. It is the business man or woman informed with Christian values who can best determine how to implement ethical practices in his or her own corporation. The parish and all who work in ecclesial ministry may do their work best if they provide inspiration and a source of grace for those who take the Gospel beyond the Church doors. The faithful are thus helped to transform their workplaces, their families and society so the coming of the Kingdom for all may be realized.

Reprinted with permission from “Gifts,” published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for the Laity, 1312 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20005.