Every baptized person is called to ministry. The Education for Ministry (EfM) program provides people with an opportunity to discover how to respond to the call to Christian service and carry out their ministries. Lay persons face the difficult and often subtle task of interpreting the richness of the church’s faith in a complex and confusing world. They need a theological education which supports their faith and also teaches them to express that faith in day-to-day events. As the emphasis on lay ministry has grown, EfM has come to play an important role by providing a program that develops an informed and knowledgeable laity.
The EfM program does not evaluate or recommend individuals for ordination. Many people think that one must be ordained in order to be “a minister.” The fact is that all baptized Christians are called to be active participants in the church’s total ministry. This TOTAL MINISTRY is nothing less than the exercise of the church’s vocation to continue the ministry of Jesus. He reconciled the world to God. We are called to incarnate that reconciliation in our own time and in our own place through worship, service to others, and by proclamation of God’s Word to all people.
The EfM program is preparation for the ministry to which we all are called. It is that vocation for which we pray at the end of the Eucharist: “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” The preparation for ordination vows usually takes place at a residential seminary. There, candidates develop their knowledge of Holy Scripture and theology and grow in the skills of preaching, leading workshop, and administering the church’s sacraments, as well as in their ability to be spiritual directors. The EfM program does not teach these skills.
The seminar group is the nucleus of the Education for Ministry program. A group consists of six to twelve participants and a trained mentor who meet weekly over the course of a nine-month academic year. These meetings are usually from two and a half to three hours in length.
Through study, prayer, and reflection, EfM groups move toward a new understanding of the fullness of God’s kingdom. This process can be illustrated by a two-rail fence. One rail is the Christian tradition. The other is the collective experience of the group’s members. The rails are linked by fence posts which represent the seminar sessions where life and study meet. The fence is grounded in the soil of regular worship which is vital to the life of the group. Participants are given weekly assignments to study with the help of resource guides. Students are responsible for setting their own learning goals. They spend between two and four hours in study and preparation each week. In the seminars members have an opportunity to share their insights and discoveries as well as to discuss questions which the study materials raise for them.
Through discussion and guided reflection, the seminars furnish an opportunity to deepen understanding of the reading materials. More important is the development of skills in theological reflection. The goal is to learn to think theologically. By examining their own beliefs and their relationship to our culture and the tradition of our Christian faith, participants can learn what it means to be effective ministers in the world. In coming to terms with the notion that everything we do has potential for manifesting the love of Christ, we discover that our ministry is at hand wherever we turn. The seminar is supported by a life of prayer and regular worship. EfM groups are encouraged to develop a pattern of worship appropriate to their situations. Liturgical materials are furnished with the course materials.
The EfM program is a four-year curriculum. Each “year” is a nine-month cycle of study. Learners enroll for one cycle at a time. Most groups begin in September and end in May. Groups range in size from six to twelve participants. Fees for the full year are collected at the time the group begins. In case of a move during the academic cycle, a participant may transfer to another group. Fees pay for the EfM materials (all required books are provided) and the honorarium for the mentor of the group. CONTENT OF THE FOUR YEARS
The texts in EfM offer perspectives on the entire sweep of the Christian tradition from the earliest period to the present. Participants engage in biblical exegesis and interpretation, theology, church history, ethics, worship, spirituality and interfaith encounter
The traditional content is not studied in a vacuum. Students belong to small “communities of learning” in which the events of each person’s life may be examined in the light of the materials being studied. While the course materials provide substantial academic content, the focus of the program is on life as ministry and understanding that ministry. EfM provides Christians with that basic skill which is the foundation of all Christian ministry — theological reflection. In doing this, participants sharpen their skills of personal and cultural assessment and enhance abilities to be effective in a variety of ministries.
Outline of the Reading Materials: The program recommends thirty-six group meetings during the course of an academic cycle. New members begin with the first lesson of year one. Participants in the same group may be studying at different levels. They read thirty-four chapters of academic content and five common lessons which help the group to get started, to learn to reflect theologically, and to develop its spirituality.