“What exactly do you do?” I tend to get that question a lot. Most of the time, it comes in the context of a conversation about my call as a staff minister at St. Marcus Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What is a staff minister? What does a staff minister do? Is that program even around anymore? Yes, it is still around, and doing quite well. I will attempt to answer the other questions for you as well.
Can you imagine what would have happened in the early church if the apostles would not have opened the window to letting others participate in ministry? How quickly would the church have grown if each apostle felt that he, and only he, could take care of the widows, do all the preaching and teaching, and help settle disputes? They knew that they couldn’t do it all, so they assigned people who had the gifts and abilities to help them. That is staff ministry.
I see staff ministry as a level between ministry by lay members and pastoral ministry. I don’t know that I have ever spoken to a pastor who has said, “I really feel like I have it all under control. There is nothing our church could do better. There is not a single person that I don’t reach out to as well as I could or should.” Such an attitude would be unfortunate; any called worker will tell you that there are endless things to do and people to see, but not enough time. Lay members help our pastors in many ways, but sometimes the need is greater than what a volunteer minister can handle. This is where a staff minister comes in; he or she is called, either full-time or part-time, to help fulfill the needs of the ministry of a particular congregation or calling body.
My life as a staff minister has changed and evolved almost every year to adjust to the needs of the ministry as well as to the gifts and abilities of our people. For three years, I taught 5th and 6th grade catechism classes in our school and was the director of the Sunday school program. I have helped teach Bible information classes, start our first high school youth ministry, and develop a ministry to people with disabilities.
One of the biggest responsibilities I have involves outreach to the community. Before I came to St. Marcus, the congregation had started an after-school program called Wandani for kids in the inner city of Milwaukee. “Wandani” is a Swahili term that means “companions.” I became the director of the youth outreach efforts, which are directed at children who are neither members of our church nor students in our school. Last year alone we had over 200 children like that come through our doors without those connections to St. Marcus. We offer tutoring programs, basketball, karate, a youth center, and mentoring.
My specific duties with this program are to coordinate and train volunteers, lead devotions, and basically do anything else that needs to get done for the ministry to be successful. I have vacuumed many floors, cleaned many toilets, and scraped gum off the gym floor, all in the name of Jesus. I have also hugged a child who desperately needed it, disciplined another child who needed that more, and built relationships with both children and volunteers that will remain for the rest of this lifetime, (Just ask my wife; she was a volunteer at Wandani when I met her!)
St. Marcus has recently asked me to become the leader of the rest of our community ministries as well, which includes a food and clothing pantry, parish nurse program, and the Deacons program, where we collect old furniture, bedding, kitchen supplies, etc., and distribute them to families in need. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It is. But with so many ministries happening all at the same time, I act mostly as a volunteer coordinator, empowering lay people to do most of the “ministering.”
The community ministries constitute the biggest portion of my time, but coming in a very close second would be music ministry. I had no plans to be involved in music ministry when I was being trained as a staff minister at MLC, but the Lord had it in his plan. When I started my internship at St. Marcus, the congregation was just about to start a new worship service that was to be completely different from the “normal” Sunday morning services. The pastor who was to lead the service, Pastor Jim Skorzewski, wanted the worship music to be led by a band, but they did not have a lead singer. Hesitatingly, I said, “I have done some singing before,” to which he replied, “… Really?” I told him we could try it out and see if he liked it, and if he didn’t I would try to find someone else. Little did any of us know what the Lord was about to do.
I passed the “audition” period, and the band that emerged as a result is called Koiné, a Greek word that means “common.”
The Sunday night worship service at 6:30 pm has grown to an average weekly attendance of 150-200 people, 80% of whom are between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. Koiné has released two CDs, which have sold approximately 10,000 copies, and is currently recording a third. We have visited well over 100 different churches in our synod, spanning from Kennewick, WA, to Ottawa, ON, to Charlotte, NC, sharing with them many hymns from our Lutheran heritage, played with a new and vibrant feel.
So, what exactly does a staff minister do? It has been my experience that no two staff ministers do exactly the same thing. Each one uses the gifts, abilities, and opportunities that the Lord provides them, and their congregations, to serve his people. Why? Because “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). You may ask, “Isn’t that really what every Christian should do?” My response would be, “Yes…I just get paid for it!”