Called to Serve

Preparing Lay Ministers to be the Hands and Feet of Christ

Date Published: Nov. 10, 2017

When Nancy Hampton returned to religious education after a 10-year stint in the public school system, she was surprised by the plethora of new types of parish ministries that had sprung up. In addition to what parishioners were doing for service and outreach and baptism and marriage preparation, she counted multiple faith formation, liturgical and pastoral ministry opportunities that hadn’t before existed.

“Wow! I think we’re definitely trying to serve the various needs of our parishioners. I just don’t recall having this many ministries when I first served,” said Hampton.

“Wow! I think we’re definitely trying to serve the various needs of our parishioners. I just don’t recall having this many ministries when I first served,” said Hampton, a parish catechetical leader for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Rowlett.

The dramatic expansion of ministries that Hampton has experienced at the local level is happening on a national scale. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the number of lay parish ministers increased 40 percent between 1990 and 2005. Between 2005 and 2015, that number increased by another 20 percent to an estimated 40,000 lay ministers active in parishes.

According to longtime youth minister and Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry adjunct professor Elizabeth Madeo, people find themselves working as lay ministers in two main ways: they either respond to an early call to choose it as a career, or they explore it as a vocation later in life, often through volunteering. During her 15 years in youth ministry, Madeo, who currently serves as director of youth ministries at the Church of the Annunciation in Kansas City, Missouri, has noticed an increase in young men and women called to be youth ministers early in their careers.

For most young Catholics, youth ministry is their first experience with their faith outside the home.

"To provide those opportunities for our young church is a privilege that comes with a lot of responsibility," said Madeo.

“To have young Christians stand on their own, to be the hands and feet of Christ without Mom and Dad next to them, gives maturity to their faith,” said Madeo. “To provide those opportunities for our young church is a privilege that comes with a lot of responsibility."

And it’s a responsibility Madeo believes should not be borne alone. Madeo has joined UD’s faculty to contribute to the Neuhoff School of Ministry’s new Executive Youth Ministry Graduate Program, an online degree program for youth ministry leaders across the nation.

“UD is providing an opportunity for ministers to be fed, so that we can in turn feed others,” said Madeo.

Hampton, like Madeo, is also contributing to this new outgrowth of parish ministries. By pursuing her ongoing formation through the University of Dallas’ new Certificate in Pastoral Ministry Program, Hampton has taken a number of courses in topics ranging from sacred Scripture to ecclesiology and the sacraments to gain a deeper understanding of her faith.  

The program is a collaborative venture of the University of Dallas and the Diocese of Dallas designed to meet the educational and formational needs of adults who serve their parishes, schools or other Catholic organizations on a volunteer basis.  

Students can take courses at a number of different locations (mostly churches) throughout the diocese. The classes typically last for five weeks each.

"I found myself wanting to come back every week, because of a deepening desire for more and more information," said Hampton.

“I found myself wanting to come back every week, because of a deepening desire for more and more information,” said Hampton, who was one of the program’s first students last fall.

Searching for a way to deepen your faith and be Christ’s hands and feet for your parish or community? Learn more about how the Certificate in Pastoral Ministry or the Master of Pastoral Ministry in Youth Ministry can help you fulfill your vocation to serve.


The University of Dallas’ mission is to form students in intellectual and moral virtues to prepare them to lead and serve their communities in a problematic and changing world. This is part one of a three-part series examining the “new renaissance” of programs at the University of Dallas that support UD’s mission to form servant-leaders.

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