By Heidi Goehmann
We have many people in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who help churches and agencies “run.”
Professionals and lay members alike give heart, time, money and energy to aid the work of the Gospel throughout the church on earth.
Today, I want to talk about our commissioned workers. What is a “commissioned worker”? And what do they do?
What is a Commissioned Worker?
Formally, a “commission” is an authorization for a person to perform certain acts or to be given certain specified duties.
Within the context of the church and her ministry, a “commissioned” worker is called by a congregation or an agency of the church to perform specific duties or tasks.
Commissioned workers are not ordained into the pastoral office, but they have professional training for various tasks.
This training is different from a pastor’s, although there is some overlap in the application of both theological and practical concepts.
Every calling is different, and each is from the Lord, as Rom. 12:4–6a reminds us:
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”
Commissioned workers serve as teachers, musicians, discipleship and outreach coordinators, parish nurses, children’s ministers, mentors, youth workers and more.
What a great thing it is in our church that we have so many trained for unique tasks given by God.
If you can think of a need, there is likely a commissioned worker ready to serve that need in some capacity.
In the early church, James and the original church council needed help for ministry and called Stephen and the deacons.
Stephen’s role of helping the widows was in no way less vital or less filled with God’s Word and hope than the apostles’ vocation of preaching, spiritual leadership and administering the sacraments.
It can seem very different today, but really it’s pretty similar — pastors uniquely preach and administer sacraments, commissioned workers uniquely focus on other aspects of sharing Jesus’ Word and hope with those around them.
Again, every worker’s goal is the same as every local congregation and agency’s goal — to share God’s Word, share Jesus’ life-giving death and resurrection, and share God’s truth and love within the church and in the world around us.
What are the needs unique to commissioned workers?
The needs of every commissioned worker are probably as unique as their calling.
But — as a result of research completed by the LCMS from 2018–19 and the suggestions of commissioned workers, leader and teachers across the Synod — the following list of the five most pressing needs of commissioned workers was compiled.
By creating awareness of the joys and struggles of commissioned worker life, we can better support one another in this Body of Christ.
1. A tiny bit forgotten
Sometimes it’s easy to think of a pastor first when we think of the needs of the church, which is a good thing. It’s important for people to be connected to their pastor.
Yet commissioned workers are also trained and prepared at length for many tasks of care, education and leadership.
If your church, school or ministry agency has more than one worker, it is ideal for these workers to work closely together to gather ideas, recognize needs and organize themselves for tasks.
While the work of preaching and administering the sacraments is reserved for pastors, there is wide and varied work that happens in your congregation beyond those two things, which leads people to hear the Word and return to the sacraments again and again.
Our commissioned workers add to the tapestry of creativity and skill offered in our churches, which strengthens the whole Body of Christ.
It’s important we recognize this good work by acknowledging, encouraging and providing for the needs of our commissioned workers, just as we do our pastors.
2. Marriage and family time
Many workers have a very hard time taking a day off. Commissioned workers, like pastors, usually get into church work because they have a sense that people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they want to share that Gospel every day.
The work of preparing and running a classroom, meeting with and encouraging families in their Christian faith, prepping music, and inviting people to be a part of it all is never done.
In addition to this, a large part of church work is sharing in other people’s suffering. No church worker would trade this — I hear over and over again how much they love being a part of the lives of people within the Body of Christ.
That said, caregiver fatigue is a very real thing. When workers come home, their families may get the last drops of their energy rather than the first.
Marriages and family life are healthiest when tended to regularly, but it’s easy to miss what our families need when there are so many needs all around us in this world.
Encouraging our church workers to spend time with their families is a good work of the Body of Christ. We could all, our workers included, use the reminder that our family needs us.
3. Financial needs
Life can be expensive. I think we can all nod in agreement and acknowledge that fact. We also acknowledge together that God has entrusted us with many gifts to be shared in this world.
Wrestling with good stewardship and budgeting is part of the life of every congregation, every Christian agency and every family.
Most congregations earnestly try to pay their workers fairly, but, with a changing culture and lower church attendance, providing for our workers can be a challenge.
We know from research that commissioned workers feel this burden alongside their congregations. It not always easy to provide fair compensation for a pastor, let alone multiple church workers.
Rising health care costs also contribute to both the congregational concerns for providing for their workers and workers’ sense of financial strain.
The weight of student debt can also be a concern, as all of our ordained and commissioned workers hold at least one degree, and many are required or encouraged to have higher education degrees in order to provide the highest quality of care and resources.
Church workers, along with lay members, are integral parts of the Body of Christ.
Because workers most often move to serve in places to which they have been called, because they have to make decisions and share ideas that may not make everyone happy, and probably for various other reasons, workers often express a sense of “otherness” in their local congregation.
They often feel included in the Body of Christ they serve, but they also feel “on the edge” of social circles within the church.
Workers, just like members, need spiritual care and friendship from those they worship alongside.
Because we try to respect privacy so much in our culture, it can be easy to distance ourselves from one another’s family and personal lives, even in close-knit congregations.
Finding friends who will laugh with them, cry with them, invite them into their homes, and share day-to-day life together is an expressed need of the workers in our churches.
5. A healthy congregation or working environment
Because congregations, no matter the size, are designed by God to be families, they often have the same struggles as other families.
Communication and organization, strong relationships, active confession and forgiveness, and sharing in both joy and sorrow are all parts of healthy congregational life.
Jesus is important and eternity matters to those in the Body of Christ so much so that emotions can run very high at times when decisions must be made in the church.
Leaders can protect the health and well-being of their workers and members by encouraging a church culture where the expectations include kindness and “putting the best construction” on each situation, rather than anger and criticism.
Congregations can also build up the workers of the church by respecting their knowledge base and area of expertise.
Just as we would expect a pediatrician to know about children’s health and an electrician to know about electrical work, the commissioned workers of our church have a subset of expertise that we can respect when carrying out the work of God in our congregations, organizations and communities.
All of this takes teamwork.
No one is more special than anyone else in the Body of Christ.
Church workers love their lay members deeply, and they are there to support and cheer on the whole Body of Christ as it works and grows together.
May we rely on Christ always, praying to the Father and leaning on the Holy Spirit as we carry out what He has called us to as a Body, always to His glory.
What have you noticed as a pressing need, whether for commissioned workers or pastors? Perhaps you feel like these hit the nail on the head, or perhaps the needs are different in your individual context. Please share your thoughts and wisdom with other workers in the comments.
Thank you to those who contributed experiences and wisdom for this article. For more articles and resources, visit the LCMS Worker Wellness webpage at lcms.org/wellness.