All baptized Christians are called by virtue of their baptismal covenant to live a lifelong ministry of Word and Service. The Word is the grounding for all that we do, and all expressions of Christian life begin with our self-understanding as servants of all. As a practical matter, however, it has been good and necessary for the church to recognize a spectrum of word and service ministries based on the specific focus of one’s vocation.
Word and Service to the World
This group focuses primarily on mission to the world beyond the church. The scope of its work includes, care and compassion, justice and advocacy, teaching, witness, prayer, and Christian friendship.
In its volunteer expressions it includes all the baptized living and working within neighborhoods, organizations, and societies outside the formal boundary of the church. This is mission and ministry in daily life. Christians following this vocation are usually not included on the official roster of leaders in our church.
In its professional expressions, it includes lay missionaries and Christian teachers, hospital, hospice and military chaplains, and related explicitly Christian occupations that do not require the gathering of the faithful around word and sacrament. Christians following this vocation may or may not be on an official roster of the church. If they are rostered, they may be rostered as deaconesses, diaconal ministers, or associates in ministry.
In its institutional expressions, it includes Christian schools and daycare centers, hospice care organizations, Christian health care organizations, Christian social services and perhaps other businesses or societies with an expressly Christian mission to the world.
Word and Service to the Church
This group focuses primarily on ministry to those already in the church or to the organizational needs of the church as it ministers to its own people.
In its volunteer expressions it includes all of the functions of service to the church that we usually call “volunteer ministries”; serving on boards and committees, singing in choirs, teaching in the church school, ushering and assisting at worship, just to name a few. Those following this vocation are usually not included on the official roster of church leaders. In recent times, however, lay education programs such as Diakonia have led congregations to publicly recognize the work and witness of some of these volunteer ministers.
In its professional expressions, it includes most of those who we usually call lay professionals: Christian education directors, church musicians, parish nurses, church administrators, youth directors, volunteer coordinators, just to name a few. Christians following this vocation may or may not be on an official roster of the church. If they are rostered, they may be rostered as deaconesses, diaconal ministers, or associates in ministry.
In its institutional expressions, it may include lay academies, church colleges, camps, or even seminaries that exist partially or completely to serve the leadership development needs of the church.
Word and Sacrament
Word and Sacrament Ministry is a highly specialized category of Word and Service to the church. Although Word and Sacrament ministers often engage in mission beyond the church, their specific call is to minister to the church through preaching, teaching and administering the sacraments.
In Lutheran tradition, Word and Sacrament ministers complete a rigorous preparation and discernment process that includes academic training in scripture, theology, ethics, church history, and comparative religion as well as practical theological training in preaching, pastoral care, worship leadership, church administration, evangelism, stewardship, multi-cultural sensitivity, and leading the whole church in its witness to the world through justice and advocacy. They must also be evaluated for personal psychological health and maturity and must pass examination by a committee of the synod in which they are registered. Christians following this vocation must receive a specific call to do so from a congregation or other expression of the church.
Although it is generally true that Word and Sacrament ministers are ordained by and to the whole church, in recent times the church has developed programs that allow individuals to be called to Word and Sacrament ministries in specific settings without access to general professional mobility in the church. Word and Sacrament ministers are almost always professional workers in the church. Exceptions, however, can be made for non-stipendiary work.
Customarily, persons who have not gone through the rigorous preparation for this ministry are not permitted to preach and administer the sacraments. There are settings, however, in our modern cultural context where no suitable ordained pastor is available or where the missional needs of the setting call for a creative leadership model. In these situations, synod bishops have the discretion to license non-ordained individuals to exercise duties usually reserved for Word and Sacrament ministers.