As our Ministerial Team worked in collaboration with Secretariat, a group of Conference Presidents; Pastors who have been engaged with Volunteer Lay Pastors; and consulted with several Volunteer Lay Pastors to create the “North American Division Guidelines for Volunteer Lay Pastors” which were voted during our 2017 Year End Meetings, we learned some best practices which have been incorporated in the official guidelines. A definition was also created. The purpose of this blog is to create more awareness and provide information on this very important ministry for Conferences in our Division, which may want to adopt it.
Definition of a Volunteer Lay Pastor
A volunteer lay pastor (VLP) is an individual who has not been professionally trained for ministry, has not worked as a licensed or ordained/commissioned minister, and is not a ministerial retiree.
The ministry of Volunteer Lay Pastors is for individuals who do not want to be full-time pastors, have their livelihood, careers, and occupations, who at the same time are passionate about the church and its mission, and have the time or willingness to create time to lead a missional venture in a church plant or an existing church.
It is not the intention of these guidelines to create a shortcut to full-time ministry. Although there have been exceptions in our Division, the path to full-time ministry is outlined in the North American Division Working Policy, and it calls for formal theological and pastoral ministry education, preferably a Master of Divinity, for those wishing to enter pastoral ministry full-time.
It must also be made very clear that it is not the spirit of the guidelines voted or the intentions of our Division that the Volunteer Lay Pastors ministry be used to mistreat or exploit the passion and labor of well-meaning lay leaders or unemployed pastors. This is an effort to recognize the important contribution of many lay leaders who are already making a huge missional difference in our North American church and to enlist the help of others who have the passion, spiritual gifts, and the willingness to be equipped to lead in collaboration with our pastors.
1. Administrative and Legal
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor is appointed by the Conference Executive Committee for one year, with input from the supervising pastor and Conference ministerial director (or Conference designee).
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor is accountable to the Supervising Pastor (District Senior Pastor)
- The Ministerial Secretary/Director or a Conference designee is appointed to serve as the Volunteer Lay Pastor Director/Coordinator to provide support and training to the Volunteer Lay Pastors and their families. Conferences will provide a minimum of 20 hours of equipping initially, and at least 20 hours per year, after the first year.
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor serves without compensation, if there is compensation the individual is no longer volunteer according to national and state laws. Reimbursement for ministry travel and other approved ministry expenses is mentioned in the guidelines and recommended as a best practice.
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor ministry is implemented in accordance with national and state laws and in consultation with legal counsel.
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor needs to undergo background check.
2. Ministry Responsibilities
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor is authorized to perform the following, among others:
- Preach, teach, plan worship services and church ministries.
- Chair the board, as designated by the Supervising Pastor and lead in strategic planning and visioning with the church.
- Visit church and community members, and families.
- Baptize, as recommended by Supervising Pastor and approved by the Conference President,
as stipulated by our Church Manual.
3. Ministry Limitations
There are a few functions the Volunteer Lay Pastors are not authorized to perform such as:
- Organize and disband churches.
- Lead an ordination service for elders, deacons, or deaconesses.
- Conduct counseling therapy, unless qualified and licensed to do so.
- The Volunteer Lay Pastor may participate in weddings, only as permitted by Conference policy and applicable laws and regulations, which may differ across North America.
I am sharing these best practices because they are already being implemented in several Conferences of the North America Division with great results. Please, keep in mind, there is a direct link between organization and success, intentionality and fruitfulness; and it has been noted that the Conferences placing an emphasis on this ministry are being blessed by the joined efforts of Pastors and Volunteer Lay Pastors working together to grow God’s Kingdom.
Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Director of the Ministerial Association and leads Evangelism, Church Planting, and Adventist/Global Mission for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.