Authorised Lay Ministry: Volunteer’s & Employer’s Liability Insurance

Author: The Revd Dr Paul Overend

Published on: 8 October 2015

While it is important that PCCs are aware of insurance liability issues in relation to lay ministry, addressing this topic helps us reflect on the nature of lay ministry as publically authorised, supported and accountable, and the role of the PCC.

Distinguishing discipleship and ministry

The Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England explain that it is valuable to distinguish between Christian discipleship and lay ministry.

Discipleship refers to the participation of all who are baptised in God’s mission – whether at home or among friends, in voluntary organizations or in employed work. However, lay ministry is best understood as referring more specifically to that ministry which is called forth to fulfil the strategic aims and planning of the church and which has been mandated by the church.

I would add here that such oversight includes the need for such ministry to be supported, with mentoring and learning opportunities to enable to lay minister not only to confidently fulfil the role they have been called to, but to grow in their own faith too as they do so.

How does the church mandate lay ministry?

Some lay ministers are authorised by the national Church and licenced by a diocese [Readers; Church Army Evangelists]. Some are authorised by a diocese [this includes Churchwardens; Eucharistic Administrators; some Lay Workers; and in the Diocese of Norwich, Authorised Worship Assistants (AWA)]. However, most lay ministers will be authorised by a local Church Council (an Annual Meeting, or a PCC or Benefice Council, for example). These include PCC members and others involved in such areas as:

  • church administrations (treasurer, parish clerk, sexton, verger (Canon E3))
  • worship (organist / Director of Music (Canon B20), sidespersons (Canon E2))
  • education (school foundation governors, small group
  • pastoral ministry (Lay Pastoral Assistants, Street Pastors, Community Worker)
  • youth and children’s work (e.g., Messy Church Leaders, Godly Play Leaders, Open the Book leaders).

This is not an exclusive list, but shows that much lay ministry is mandated or authorised by the local church.

The Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1956 (amended) defines the principal function, or purpose, of the PCC as ‘promoting in the parish the whole mission of the Church’. Working with the Incumbent, or Priest-in-Charge, the Church Council’s role includes identifying strategic areas of mission and ministry and calling, authorising and supporting people to do this. It is a great privilege that a local church community is called to discern God’s will and opportunities for sharing in God’s mission, but it is also a responsibility, which involves caring for those they call to ministry.

What is a PCC’s responsibility in relation to insurance liability?

This background regarding the authorisation of lay ministry is helpful, when considering a PCC’s insurance liability. If a Parish Church or Benefice Council is appointing volunteers to ministry, it will need an Employer’s Liability Insurance Policy, such as Ecclesiastical Parishguard Policy. To comply with the terms of this, it is important that they:

  • Discern both the needs of the church and the gifts of potential of possible volunteers, before recruiting and authorising. This should follow the good practice of the Church of England, including health and safety, risk assessments and safeguarding (which may involve making DBS checks). (Selection)
  • Are clear on the role, and have a ‘working agreement’, defining the expectations and boundaries of the role, while protecting the lay minister from an ill-defined and therefore ever-growing commitment. Appointments should be recorded in the minutes by the Church Council and authorised lay ministers should know that they are accountable to the church. (Appointment)
  • Provide regular mentoring / supervision by a licenced minister (a priest or Reader), whose role should be supportive (providing a safe a place to ‘offload’ in relation to ministry), formative (supporting learning and identifying appropriate training opportunities), and normative (good practice and accountability to the Church Council). This should include a regular review to reconsider the role (in the light of changing needs of the church) and the lay minister’s other commitments (changing family life) and may periodically involve a more extensive review of ministry, once every year or every few years. (Supervision)

A booklet of good practice can be found on the Diocesan website at

I am also very happy to speak with clergy and with Church Councils as they consider organizing their existing lay ministry or reimagining lay ministry for their churches.

For further guidelines on good practice in the Church of England, please see or contact Paul at Diocesan House on 01603 882336 and we can send you a printed copy of the document.

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The Revd Dr Paul Overend

Lay Development Officer

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