A discussion over on Looney's blog has prompted me to write on the subject of a lay ministry. Our church has a lay ministry, and it is amazing how well it works. There are several aspects to our church in particular that make a lay ministry possible.
REQUIREMENTS FOR SERVICE
Looney mentioned that many religions have at least one minister who has been professionally educated in religion. While we have many church leaders who are well educated, only a small number of them have focused on religion as their field of study. There are no education requirements for service in our church. But we believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who have authority from God. "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." Heb. 5:4. That person must also meet the worthiness requirements.
So what education do our leaders receive? Our church curriculum is incredibly organized and well prepared. Each Sunday, speakers teach us about church doctrine in our Sacrament meetings. In our Sunday school classes we study the scriptures. The teacher follows an outlined lesson that focuses on church doctrine, not philosophies of men. For a sample of a lesson that might be taught, check out our manuals on our church website. You can read through some of the lessons there. These lessons are presented worldwide, without variation. You can go to any unit of the church throughout the world and will probably be hearing the same lesson that I will be hearing in my Sunday school class on that same day. This uniformity helps ensure that church members are taught the doctrine, and understand the scriptures. We focus on a different book of scripture each year. We study the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants/Church history. In addition to our Sunday school classes, women attend Relief Society meetings and attend Priesthood meetings where we are further taught about gospel principles. Children and teenagers are also taught the gospel using uniform church curriculum. In addition, our teenagers are offered the opportunity to attend 4 years of seminary instruction during their high school years. They also spend one year studying each book of scripture. Through the curriculum of the church, even new members can learn the doctrine and be well prepared to serve in the church.
SERVICE BRINGS GROWTH
Serving in the church requires sacrifice. Joseph Smith taught that, "“a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation” (Lectures on Faith , 69). While it may seem difficult to find people who are willing to serve without compensation, members of the church willingly serve because of the blessings and growth their service brings to them and their family. For example, a new member might be asked to teach a children's class. Through teaching the simple lessons, that new member also learns the doctrine himself. "Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. " (Doctrine and Covenants 50:22) As a person serves and grows in their callings in the church, they become more qualified to serve in more difficult callings.
In addition to learning as we serve, the Lord also blesses us with the gifts we need to serve in our callings. President Monson said, “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies." He blesses those who serve, and helps them to magnify their calling, and serve as needed. I have felt those kinds of blessings as I have served in the church. I have been asked to serve in difficult callings which required great sacrifice. But the Lord has always blessed and helped me to know how to best serve, and to develop the skills I needed to perform my calling well. Church members pray for inspiration and guidance to know how best to fulfill their responsibilities.
Our church leaders, including Bishops, have their own profession in addition to their responsibilities as a church leader. This requires great sacrfice on their part, but they are blessed for their service to the Lord. The Book of Mormon talks about how this worked in ancient times:
"And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength." Alma 1:26
Because we do not pay for our ministers or church leaders' service, our donations can all go to helping the poor, helping to build church buildings, etc. Even our missionaries are volunteer and fund their own missionary service.
When the Savior was living upon the Earth, he chose his 12 disciples. He chose them because of their character, and because He knew they would faithfully fulfill their responsibilities. Bishops today can also be inspired by God to know who should serve in each calling. God knows who needs the opportunity to serve, and who would be best able to touch the lives of those in need. It may not be the most educated or experienced person who is chosen, but when they are called by inspiration, we can feel assured that they are the person God would have serve.
Please feel free to ask any questions you might have about how our lay ministry works.