Certification for Ecclesial Ministry: A Developmental Model

Certification for Ecclesial Ministry: A Developmental Model

Crystal Sullivan, MTS, Executive Director of Campus Ministry at the University of Dayton, speaks about recently updated and approved standards for certification for the Catholic Campus Ministry Association.

Sometimes the specialized terms related to ministry formation, or certification for ecclesial ministry, as well as certification itself, can be confusing. While what follows is neither an exhaustive nor authoritative list of questions and answers, they can provide clarity to common questions about certification and the work of the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry & Service. Additional information can be found in our glossary of terms.

What is certification for ministry?

Certification for a specialized ministerial role in leadership or is achieved by a candidate gaining competency and skills in that role which can be regularly evaluated and acknowledged by an authorized committee of an organization, diocese or similar program. That competency is based on established criteria and standards. Candidates who receives certification are judged to have adequately demonstrated that they have met the standards and competencies of the diocese, organization or program. They are granted formal recognition of certification for a stipulated period of time, with the option to renew it.

There are many programs of certification offered in various dioceses and institutions. Some of these have also been reviewed and approved for best practices by the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry & Service.

If I receive a certificate of completion for a program of study in ministry, is that the same as certification for ecclesial ministry?

It depends. If the certificate program is part of a formal process of certification sponsored by a diocese or a Catholic ministry organization, the certificate in that program may be part of a certification portfolio. In the case of standards and procedures approved by the USCCB Subcommittee, candidates for certification must submit a portfolio of work demonstrating a certain number of skills and a certain amount of dedicated education and training units. This information is typically submitted to a diocesan program or national ministry organization, who serves as the certifying agent.

Does the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry & Service itself offer a certification for ministry ?

While the subcommittee does approve formation and certification standards, it is not itself a certifying body.

Does the subcommittee offer accreditation for Catholic academic programs of study for advanced ministry degrees (e.g. Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies, etc.) or approval of national formation programs?

The subcommittee does consult and work closely with academic institutions who offer these degrees, and with related organizations, including the Association of Graduate Program in Ministry. While the predecessor body to the subcommittee, the independent USCCB Commission on Certification and Accreditation (USCCB/CCA) did offer this academic service, the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry & Service does not. The reasons for this are noted in the brief history on this page.

The subcommittee also does not approve specific ministry formation programs. Rather, it approves standards for certification which are used by such programs when certifying candidates who demonstrate competence in the approved standards. Thus, programs who use the approved standards as a basis for their program and properly evaluate the demonstration of those standards can award certifications noting that the standards used have been approved by the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service.

The subcommittee does approve diocesan ministry formation programs when they voluntarily submit their standards for review based on established national standards approved by the subcommittee.

So, what does the subcommittee do?

The USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry & Service approves certification standards and procedures for lay ecclesial ministers, as well as for some priests and deacons in specialized roles in ministerial leadership. The dioceses and national organizations whose standards and procedures have been approved for certification are the organizations, who, in turn, grant certification to candidates who apply and demonstrate, before a committee of their peers, that they have reached competencies in those standards. 

The subcommittee also offers consultations for dioceses and programs about best practices for ministry formation and certification and provides a voice for competency-based ministry certification and development of best practices within the USCCB. You can read the full mandate here.

How would I receive a certification for ecclesial ministry which is approved by the USCCB?

You must demonstrate competence in a set of standards and capabilities provided by a diocesan formation program or a national ministry organization whose standards have been approved by the USCCB Subcommittee.

Learn more about which dioceses and organizations are approved by the subcommittee.

May I receive certification as a "lay ecclesial minister?"

While it is appropriate to speak of formation as a "lay ecclesial minister" or for "lay ecclesial ministry," the nature of certification is such that it evaluates competencies for specific roles. The USCCB document resourcing lay ecclesial ministry Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord indicates that the terms "lay ecclesial minister" and "lay ecclesial ministry" are generic terms used to easily denote a group of men and women whose ecclesial service is characterized by more specific roles within the church (cf. Co-Workers, p. 10-11). Thus, while it is common and appropriate to speak of those prepared for lay ecclesial ministry in a broad sense, certification, in the sense presented in Co-Workers is only for particular defined leadership roles in ministry, according to the characteristics laid out in that document. A more detailed explanation is provided here.

How does a diocesan ministry formation program or Catholic ministry organization request that the USCCB Subcommittee review and approve certification standards?

For diocesan ministry formation programs, programs approved by state or regional Catholic Conferences in the U.S., or Catholic national ministry organizations who are recognized by the IRS as 501(c)3 nonprofit institutions and who appear in The Official Catholic Directory, there is process for application. Additionally, it is strongly encouraged that the organization requesting review either be a national ministry member association or similar entity or that the program seeking approval of standards have worked in a close relationship with such an organization and has the support of that organization, so as to demostrate a broad reach for the standards.

Typically, for a diocese the request must come from the local Ordinary (bishop) and for a Catholic nonprofit ministry organization, the request must come from the president of the Board of Trustees. Learn more details on the process for approval of certification standards by the subcommittee.

Do the certification standards have other uses besides being used in certification programs?

Yes! The work that has been done on the certification standards approved by our subcommittee over the years can be valuable in many other ways, and we encourage the sharing of our approved standards as a way of promoting the important aspects of minister development and ongoing formation which are part of promoting a culture of ministry competence.

Here are some examples of how certification standards might be used in different ways:

  • Reflection by ecclesial ministers in both volunteer and paid roles on their personal development as ministers in the life of the church and a deeper awareness of the competencies desired in professional ecclesial ministers
  • Consideration of existing and future position descriptions for ministerial leadership roles in parish, diocesan, and organizational settings and how those descriptions align with these standards. Wherever possible, it is encouraged that ministerial job descriptions include such terms as “certification preferred” when a certification exists for the position.
  • Discernment about ministerial activities and opportunities for minister development in such venues as retreats, diocesan or parish gatherings, organizational strategic planning and other such opportunities.
  • Presentations on the benefits of certification, or incorporation of the materials into workshops.

If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.