School for Lay Ministry serves the local church

School for Lay Ministry serves the local church

April 13, 2017

Have you ever felt a call to do something more for your local church congregation? Then, according to John Rothlisberger, the School for Lay Ministry (SLM) might be up your alley.

“The most important piece (of SLM) is the goal that we would strengthen the understanding and skills of the laity within the church,” he said. “The need is great, and it’s more than just filling the pulpit on a Sunday morning.”

Rothlisberger is the dean of the SLM at Simpson College. SLM training is a three-year process consisting of four weekends throughout the year. There are three locations for SLM: Simpson, Morningside College with Dean Dean Gabhart and Cornell with Dean Lynn Calvert. There is also a Hispanic class taught by Rev. Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz at Simpson.
Click here to listen to the conversation with John Rothlisberger

Each location runs on a different calendar. Typically Simpson’s SLM starts the first weekend in November, followed by the first weekend in January, the first weekend in March and the first or last weekend in May. There is a total of 12 classes per year based on a broad array of topics. Classes are taught by college professors, conference staff, field outreach ministers or seminary professors. 

“The goal is to see as broad a picture of the United Methodist Church, its traditions, faith, its doctrine and polity and theological variations,” said Rothlisberger. “The purpose of the program is for laity to get a big picture of the whole thing.”

The Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church indirectly supports SLM by providing scholarships to students. Each class costs around $140.

“Prior to becoming dean, I was told (SLM) made a conscious decision to not take a direct funding from the conference, but students can utilize conference funds,” said Rothlisberger. “That’s critical because a lot of people would not be able to attend the school without the scholarship.”

Called to serve

Rothlisberger himself is a graduate of SLM. Prior to attending, he was a school administrator. When he retired, he felt a calling but didn’t know what to do with it.

“I was trying to find my way as to how the church might be able to make use of the skills I have and to understand that calling,” he said. “I figured one of the best places for God to speak to me was a place where people are trying to understand the different aspects of the church.”

For many other students of SLM, they felt the same calling and knew they could make a larger impact on their local church congregations. 

“The people that participated in it, which I’m one, are probably looking to know more about what God is directing them to do in their lives,” he said. 

Rothlisberger wants to emphasize that being a lay minister is more than filling in for pastors when they are on vacation.

“It’s the day to day work of the church,” he said. “The opportunities are there, and it’s huge.”

While the goal of SLM is to strengthen the local church with laity involvement, he did say that sometimes, God’s path for us can take us even farther.

“We don’t control what God does with your life,” said Rothlisberger. “But many people do feel a call to go beyond (lay ministry).”

Rothlisberger himself experienced being away from his local congregation. While he is still active with his local church, this past year has taken him on some very incredible journeys. He was nominated to attend General Conference in Portland this year, which led to him attending the Jurisdictional conference. The former dean of Simpson’s SLM and some of SLM’s instructors thought it would be beneficial for an SLM Dean to have knowledge of the General Conference.

“My skillset from my career rolled into what I see in the school,” he said. “The Conference and district levels found work for me to do outside of my local congregation.”

Rothlisberger reassures those interested in SLM not to be afraid. The opportunities for lay ministers in the church far outweigh the negatives.

“Brace yourself because the doors will open and your opportunities to serve will be more than you can imagine,” he said. “Just know you’re needed, that’s the key.”

For more information about the School for Lay Ministry visit