Taking the “Lay” Out of Ministry

We’ve all read church growth material which encourages you to share your faith while serving your neighbor through your various vocations. It’s a great blessing that God allows us to participate in His mission through the power of the Holy Spirit. What’s not so great is when that church growth material goads you into the “everyone a minister” paradigm, because everyone isn’t a minister. Even in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which has historically been strong on upholding the Office of the Holy Ministry, this non-Lutheran theology has made inroads. LCMS pastor Kent Hunter, the self-proclaimed “Church Doctor,” had this to say in 1983:

The pastor is the called shepherd of the royal priesthood, but he is not there to do the ministry for the sheep. Shepherds don’t reproduce sheep, anyway. Sheep reproduce sheep! Mission and ministry belong to the people. The pastor is there to be the trainer, the equipper of the people. The pastor is like a playing coach. He does ministry himself, but his primary responsibility is to train Christians to do this ministry.1

This has led, among other things, to layman in the LCMS performing Word and Sacrament ministry – a clear violation of Augsburg Confession Article XIV. Instead of a command from Christ to do these works, these laymen have a license from their District President. The go-to Bible verse to support the everyone-a-minister concept is Ephesians 4:11-12. Logia 24-4In the English Standard Version, this verse reads “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….” The problem with reading the verse this way is that it doesn’t faithfully reflect the meaning of the text. You may have heard that the verse should have a comma after “saints,” reading “to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….” This rendering eliminates the lay ministry idea, and has historically been the way the verse was translated. The King James Version reads “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ….” But as Rev. Robert Mayes points out in his excellent article in the latest issue of Logia (XXIV-4), “the comma argument rests on thin ice,” because the earliest New Testament books were written in all capital letters with no spacing and no punctuation. This means a categorical statement on the comma issue is problematic. Not to worry – Rev. Mayes thoroughly exegetes these two verses, definitively arguing St. Paul’s intent in his article, titled “Equipping the Saints”? Why Ephesians 4:11–12 Opposes the Theology and Practice of Lay Ministry.

Before Rev. Mayes gets to the meat of his argument, he first defines lay ministry,2 and mentions that while pastors today do not share every function of the five offices listed in verse 11, such as performing miracles or predicting the future,

Yet the tasks of public preaching, teaching, administering sacraments, absolving the sins of the repentant, retaining the sins of those who do not repent, shepherding, overseeing the spiritual well-being of the people of God — these all are given to the one holy pastoral office for all times. Whatever the differences were in Paul’s day, it does not change the fact that all five offices were understood to share the same divine authority.

He then discusses διακονία (diakonia) in verse 12, meaning “ministry,” pointing out that

διακονία is a term used to depict the service that is done by a representative of a higher authority, such as by a prime minister or a governmental servant who answers to the head of state. Paul, Timothy, Silas, and the pastors described in the New Testament represent Christ and answer to him as well (see 1 Cor 4:1–4). Collins’s research shows that διακονία is not a term that can be used to describe the understanding of ministry that is derived from a body of believers “from below” and collectively transferred to one to do publicly.

Thus διακονία, properly exegeted, refutes the lay ministry notion. He then points out that an examination of the purpose clauses and result clauses demonstrates that it is an erroneous view “that the five offices of Ephesians 4:11 were given for the purpose of equipping saints for ministry, with the result of building up the church. Whoever reads this interpretation forces Scripture to say something it does not say.”

We then get to the heart of Rev. Mayes’ argument, the exegesis of the word καταρτισμὸν (katartismon), which in recent translations has been translated as “equipping.” In a thoroughgoing analysis he demonstrates that the chief sense of καταρτισμὸν is “to bring perfection, restoration, and unity.” This completely destroys the modern-day notion that verse 12 refers to the equipping of the saints. Not only that, it also changes the verse from a Law-orientation to a Gospel-orientation.

“The completing/perfecting of the saints” sums up the sacred duties of the apostolic office. Here, the chief article of justification is now involved. How are people, broken by sin, made complete and perfect? By no means is it by having lay people do works, not even the work of doing ministry! Rather, being complete and perfect is most certainly by grace through faith in Christ! No one can fulfill the demands of the law in order to be made whole. No one can add anything of salvific value onto Christ without robbing Christ of his glory. But Christ’s righteousness becomes the sinner’s by God’s grace. He who has Christ’s alien righteousness through faith is complete, whole, and charged perfect.

He continues,

…Ephesians 4:12 is about pastors bringing saints the gospel and not directing saints to the law. This complete restoration and consummation (καταρτισμὸν) does not come about by saints doing a work of ministry (ἔργον διακονίας), but by that ministry that God himself does, which he has ordered to come publicly through the preaching, teaching and administering of the sacraments by called and ordained pastors.

The “lay” has therefore been taken out of “ministry” – but as Rev. Mayes states: “Do lay people also in turn serve their pastor and other lay people in various ways? Of course. That’s what the doctrine of vocation is all about, not to mention self-sacrificial giving.” This is good news. The missional burden is lifted from our shoulders. We laymen are free in Christ to share the Good News as we go about our lives, and Ephesians 4:11-12 has been restored to its intended meaning, as Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession proclaims: “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”


You can purchase a copy of the current edition of Logia here. The first twelve years of Logia issues can be downloaded for free here.



1. Klaus Detlev Schulz, Mission from the Cross – The Lutheran Theology of Mission (St. Louis: CPH, 2009) 279.

2. “In this paper, lay ministry is defined as the public religious acts performed by people who are not called or ordained to the pastoral office, but are ‘empowered,’ ‘equipped,’ or ‘licensed’ by clergy and/or a congregation and/or a synodical district, apart from the church’s historic manner as found in standard Lutheran hymnbook agendas. These public religious acts are chiefly the public proclaiming of God’s word, publicly absolving sins in Christ’s stead, baptizing in situations that do not constitute a real emergency, consecrating the Lord’s Supper, and administering the Supper with or without the presence of a pastor.”

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


Taking the “Lay” Out of Ministry — 64 Comments

  1. The AD’s “Guidelines” goes off the deep end at “using reserved sacrament.” In addition to SD.VII.85, there is this further explanation:

    Chemnitz is not in favour of a reservation and gives several arguments for his position.

    First, from the description of the last supper, Chemnitz concludes: “Therefore it agrees better with the description of the institution and the example of Christ to recite the words of institution and by means of them to bless the Eucharist at the place and time of Communion, in the presence of those who are to be communed, rather than at another place and time in the absence of those to whom it is to be offered.”” The second argument looks at the character of the words of institution. “‘Take, eat, do this etc.’ are directed not to the elements, but those who were about to commune.” Therefore, it is not in harmony with the institution to consecrate in the absence of the communicants. Third, the Lord’s Supper is not a medicine to be taken quietly, but the words are necessarily attached to it. A separation of the words of institution and communion distorts the intimate connection between the proclamation of Christ’s death and communion. Fourth, the sick need comfort, and the best consolation they can get are the Words of Institution. Fifth, if there is no reservation, the question of what the elements are apart from the use, which “disturb the simplicity of the doctrine and faith concerning the Eucharist,” is avoided. Sixth, and last, since Rome tries to make it mandatory, as a sign of Christian liberty in protest of this effort to enslave consciences, the Lutherans reject this canon of Trent.

    Therefore, the Lutheran practice is to “recite the words of the Supper, which are in fact the consecration, in the presence of the sick person.” In that way, the Lutherans follow the prescription and example of Christ, and not a particular tradition which has no foundation in Scripture.

    Excerpted from Roland F. Ziegler, Should Lutherans Reserve the Consecrated Elements for the Communion of the Sick?, Concordia Theological Quarterly, 67:2, April 2003, pp. 144-5.

  2. Dear BJS, and all:

    01) Talked around, this appears to be a Rev. Benke issue in reality, a zinger against the LCMS leadership.

    02) Perhaps the new man will “fix a few errors up.”

    03) I am going to try and pen a resolution, because I heard in 2004, some resolutions really muddled the language and allowed wayward leaders to form such bad practice. There “may” be some resolutions out there???? One more does not hurt.

    I hope in Convention 2016, we can fix up at least this mess, or give it a try. I certainly will voice my opinion.

  3. @John Rixe #53
    Dear John,
    Thanks for finding that, and there is really good information at both Sems, as well as the Concordias (they all differ).

    I value and cherish the hard work these fine women perform for His Church.

    Let me say that again!!!

    We value and cherish the hard work these fine women perform for His Church. I have worked with a view Deaconesses’s, the Church is blessed by their service.

  4. @Tim Schenks #19

    Tim — I am 100% sure that the convention voted not to accept any new lay ministers. There were 2 licensed lay ministers at the time, their status would end once their ‘term’ was over.

  5. RESOLUTION 1-09A To Address Licensed Lay Administration of Word And Sacrament is on page 25 of the Missouri District’s 2012 Eighteenth Convention Proceedings (p. 25):

    Resolved, that all laymen who are currently licensed to publically preach the Word and administer the Sacraments be encouraged to enroll in one of the seminary programs leading to ordination; and be it further
    Resolved, that the Missouri District respectfully request the Synod to discontinue the licensing of laymen to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments, as per 1989 Res. 3-05B; and be it further
    Resolved, that the Missouri District respectfully request the Synod to require those who are currently so licensed to discontinue publicly preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments within three years after the time when the Synod acts on this resolution; and be it finally
    Resolved, that the Missouri District respectfully request the Synod to provide that any extension of the above deadline for those currently licensed can be granted one time only by the appropriate District President, and that upon consultation with and approval from the President of the Synod.

  6. @Pastor Prentice #52

    Here’s the big problem w/ fixing doctrine w/ resolutions: we shouldn’t be voting on doctrine to begin with!

    Even if we win, we’re plaiting the whip that will be used on our own backs when only 49% of the LC-MS in convention believes what the Bible teaches and the BOC 1580 confesses about the OHM, and administration of the means of grace.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  7. To judge doctrine (see K&A, Thesis X on the Ministry) means to judge what is being taught by pastors and teachers , or in convention doctrinal resolutions, in light of Scriptures, as exposited in the Lutheran Confessions. Scriptural support for such judging includes 1 Corinthians 10:5-16; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Matthew 7:15-16; John 10:5; Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8-9.

    See also the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 51-56. Additional witnesses of the Church in the private writings of its teachers are given in C.F.W. Walther’s Church and Ministry (trans. J.T. Mueller, CPH, 1987, pp. 333-351, and pp. 356-7).

  8. @Matt Mills #58

    It’s not exactly voting on doctrine, more like agreeing on it. Concordia is what we believe, teach, and confess about Holy Scripture, but two different people will read the same text in the Book of Concord and come out with completely different meanings. Look at your “a Regular Call is ordination” claim earlier.

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