The ELCA’s work on a new, unified roster will recognize, support and organize people committed to serving the needs of the church and the wider world in the name of Christ.

The lead-in question most people may ask is: “What’s word and service, and what does it have to do with me?” The answer: Word (sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus) and service (ministering to all people, following the example of Jesus) is what the church does. All baptized people are called to share the good news and to serve. We doword and service because of who we are – people born anew in and through Jesus Christ.

The church – the people of God – need to be continually reminded and encouraged to be who we are and that what we do in and for the world makes a real difference. We need to be assisted and supported in fulfilling our baptismal calling to proclaim the good news and serve all people. That’s where a word and serviceroster comes in.

The word “roster” means “list.” As we currently use the term in the ELCA, it is an official list of people who have been called to public ministry by God through the church. These people have fulfilled the preparatory requirements for their specific roster and have been set apart to their roster by ordination, commissioning or consecration. They must fulfill the expectations for remaining in good standing on their particular roster and are accountable to the ELCA in the carrying out of their ministry. Presently, there are four public ministry rosters in the ELCA:

  • those ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament (clergy and pastors)
  • associates in ministry
  • diaconal ministers
  • deaconesses of the ELCA

Associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses of the ELCA in the past have been on lay rosters to distinguish them from the ordained clergy roster. More recently, these three lay rosters have been placed under the heading of “word and service.” Each of them has unique qualities, and yet all of them are alike in that they are committed to serving the needs of the church and the wider world in the name of Christ, to proclaiming the gospel in word and deed, and to working to equip and strengthen all of the baptized in their servanthood.

The work has begun

In order to more fully utilize word and service as a public ministry of the church for the sake of the world, an ELCA task force has been working for several years to develop a plan whereby a new, unifiedword and service roster may be created to replace what we currently call the three lay rosters.

The Word and Service Task Force has been discussing such things as definition of the new roster, what to call those on the new roster, standards for the new roster, necessary constitutional changes and transitional matters (including grand-parenting all those currently serving on the three lay rosters onto the new roster).

Updates have been sent out three times in the past year and a half to people who are currently on the four public ministry rosters, welcoming their feedback and input on the process. Regular reports to the ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops have also taken place. Discussions at gatherings of rostered leaders and at synodical and regional events are planned over the next two years as well.

Eventually, the church will decide if there is to be a new, unified roster. The task force plans to complete its work in time for a proposal to be brought to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Stay tuned

In the meantime, watch for more communication regarding the possible formation of a new, unified word and service roster. Talk with others about how this might serve the church in its baptismal calling to proclaim the gospel and serve all people. Ask questions. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Embrace your own baptismal calling to proclaim the good news and serve all people, and give thanks that, in Christ, we are “always being made new.”

Read more on this topic and the work of the task force at Lay Rosters (Word and Service) or contact Cherlyne Beck at the churchwide organization: You can also download task force reports.

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