Understanding the Differences among Commissioned Ministry Roles

Commissioned ministers serve in a variety of roles with their own particular emphases. Understanding what each of these commissioned ministers is trained to do will lay a foundation for understanding what commissioned ministry is in the LCMS today.

Director of Christian Education

Though sometimes perceived as a calling for the young, DCEs of all ages and stages in their careers serve congregations, schools, and recognized service organizations (RSOs). Whether providing instruction directly or equipping volunteers to join in the educational ministries of the congregation, DCEs are involved with all ages. Many are called specifically to serve in children’s, youth, or adult ministry. Many others are generalists called to provide leadership across multiple age ranges and in a variety of settings.

The ministry of the DCE may be seen through his or her leadership in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, mission trips, youth gatherings, retreats, youth groups, parenting seminars, confirmation, and many other educational ministries. To prepare for such a broad role, DCEs are trained in theology as well as educational theory.

The ministry of the DCE is a support to the pastor that may take many different shapes depending on the needs of the local church as well as the life stage and skill/experience of the individual DCE. While the younger DCE may find his or her nights alive with the noise of lock-ins and retreats, the more seasoned DCE may be called upon to provide holistic ministry to the family. What unites the ministry of the DCE across these various life stages and ministry emphases is a passion for teaching the faith through well-formed theological reflection to members of the congregation and community across the life span in developmentally appropriate and creative ways.

Lutheran Teacher

The Lutheran school and the Lutheran teacher place an emphasis on the formation of the whole student. Specifically, the Lutheran teacher seeks to support the work of the church and the home in the faith formation of their students. The Lutheran teacher is trained not only to teach—math, science, reading, and other subjects—but to do so through the lens of his or her Christian faith. The Bible is taught and the Christian faith confessed in every course and lesson.

Lutheran teachers do not clock out at 3:00 p.m. when the school day ends or when their grading is complete. They are active members of their congregations. They take an interest in their students and the families of their students, supporting the church in the care of the families of the congregation. Like their public school counterparts, Lutheran school teachers continue to shape and teach students through extracurricular activities such as sports, drama, and music, providing life lessons and helping further develop valuable skills and talents in their students. However, unlike public school teachers, the Lutheran teacher is expected to conduct all this service with a particular focus in mind.

From the beginning of the day to the end, Lutheran education is all about the Gospel, and the Lutheran teacher is called to bring that Gospel to the children of the congregation and community through the ministry of the Lutheran school. While it is the vocation of all Christian teachers to represent Christ in their teaching, Lutheran teachers are placed in their calls for the express purpose of not only teaching the many school subjects but also bringing the Gospel into all aspects of that teaching.


The word deaconess means “servant.” Deaconesses are trained women who spend their time in both spiritual care and social service. Early LCMS deaconess work involved work in orphanages, deaf ministry, and care of the elderly.

While many deaconesses serve through calls to local congregations, many others serve in hospitals, in social service agencies, and as missionaries. Often the Lutheran deaconess is a support to the pastor in providing care to female members of the congregation and community. Whether coming alongside the pastor as he visits women in need of spiritual care or providing this care and support on their own, the Lutheran deaconess is trained to understand the impact of pain, illness, and loss, and is prepared to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ into those times of struggle. Many deaconesses provide end-of-life care to an increasingly graying population.

Director of Christian Outreach

Like the deaconess and the DCE, the Director of Christian Outreach (DCO) was established by the LCMS to support the work of the pastor. While the DCE is focused on Christian education, the DCO is focused on outreach. Just as the DCE is an equipper focused on Christian education, the DCO equips and supports the members of the congregation in their outreach and presentation of the Gospel to the community. The DCO is formed theologically with a missiological emphasis. The DCO’s ministry may include establishing a church plant for a new congregation or attempting to revitalize a more established church.

The ministry of the DCO is naturally focused more on those outside the church than those within its walls. Yet while the DCO keeps at the forefront of his or her mind the needs of those who have yet to hear the Gospel or who have not yet come to saving faith in Christ, the DCO balances that ministry with the work of equipping the members of the local congregation to engage in outreach as well. The ministry of the DCO has been established in order to better equip the local congregation to understand the context in which God has placed their ministry and to formulate and execute a Spirit-led strategy to reach that community with the Gospel.

Director of Parish Music

The relatively recent development of the Director of Parish Music (DPM) has elevated the role of the church musician within the LCMS and their support of the ministry of the pastor in worship. While Lutheranism has had a more than solid history in music (think of Luther the hymnwriter here as well as Bach, who was called to serve at St. Nicholas and St. Thomas in Leipzig), the DPM places that tradition more formally within the ministry of the local congregation.

In addition to a strong theological training, DPMs have broad musical training to meet the variety of ministry needs and musical styles found in the local church. Training may range from proficiency on the organ to handbells, choir, and/or the direction of a praise band for contemporary forms of worship arts.

DPM positions may be full-time in larger congregations. They may involve additional responsibilities with an affiliated Lutheran school. They may also include children’s, youth, or family ministry, or may be bivocational with another role outside the ministry of the local church.

Director of Family Life Ministry

The newest rostered position in the LCMS is the Director of Family Life Ministry (DFLM). The DFLM supports Christian marriages and families and leads youth programs to teach the faith to younger generations. In addition to certification in the LCMS, DFLMs are also certified Family Life Educators by the National Council on Family Relations. This dual certification is reflected in the combination of theological and social science education that DFLMs receive to prepare them to support the ministry of the pastor as he ministers to the families of his congregation and community.

DFLMs serve the church by developing life-stage programs to build and equip strong, healthy families through programming, family life education, and mentoring. They are prepared to provide training for parents in shaping faith at home and in church, premarriage education and marriage enrichment training, parent education classes throughout the life span, human sexuality training, training for families with members in the later years, and non–nuclear family training. The DFLM seeks to serve the church by supporting the family holistically. Viewing the family as a system, the DFLM is able to support the family through the various changes confronted throughout the stages of the life cycle. Though often doing similar work that a DCE might, the DFLM is prepared with a deeper base of social science training specifically aimed at preparing them for this ministry with the family, rather than the educational emphasis of the DCE.

Lay Minister

The Lay Minister is the final commissioned minister to be examined. This ministry varies depending on the talents of the individual, the training track taken in preparation, and the needs of the local congregation. A Lay Minister may be involved in evangelism, visitation, Christian education, youth ministry, senior ministry, church administration, member assimilation, and spiritual gifts administration, among other areas of local congregational ministry. Lay Ministers are trained in theology as well as their area of specialization.

While there is overlap and parallel work done by individuals from different roster classifications, this diversity of training and emphasis in ministry enriches congregations across the LCMS. Each of these offices was established to support the ministry of the pastor. The training of commissioned ministers is substantively different from that of pastors. Whereas pastors in the LCMS get a deeper and broader theological education than commissioned ministers, their seminary education only includes one course in teaching and one course in pastoral care/counseling. The specialized training of commissioned ministers is specifically designed to provide workers who can support the pastor in those areas of education and care.

Get an in-depth look at the theology of commissioned ministry so you can properly respect and rightly balance these offices of ministry.

Preview Called to Serve

Subscribe to all CPH Blog topics (Worship, Read, Study, Teach, and Serve)