Explore Calling: Ministry of the Elder
Those whose leadership in service includes preaching and teaching the Word of God, administration of the sacraments, ordering the Church for its mission and service, and administration of the Discipline of the Church are ordained as elders. –2008 Discipline, ¶303.2
Ordained to Word, Sacrament, and Order
The elder has primary responsibility for Word, the apostolic task of the faithful transmission of the faith and proclamation of the Word of God. For the elder, this includes primary responsibility for the preaching and teaching ministry, though preaching in Methodism has included the lay preacher, the local pastor and the associate member. The unique focus of the elder is the responsibility for administration of the sacraments and the ordering of the ministry of the church. For most elders, this will be lived out as the pastor in charge of a local congregation, but the elder’s ministry is not restricted to the parish. They may be appointed to extension ministries (¶343), serving in a variety of settings. Because elders have been ordained to ordering the ministry of the church and administering the Discipline, bishops and district superintendents are chosen from ordained elders. Elders lead and serve the whole church in ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order.
Ordained to Service
All ordained ministry is rooted in servant leadership. Ordination to service makes clear that elders embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership wherever they are appointed. (¶340.2d) For Wesley, this meant refusing the constraints of parish boundaries and claiming the world as his parish. For us it means that elders lead in service to order the Church for its mission and service in the world.
Through prophetic preaching, biblical interpretation, sacramental administration, theological reflection, and ordering the Church for ministry, the elder equips all Christians for their ministry of service in the world. Some elders serve in extension ministries which reach beyond the local church through ministries such as military chaplaincy, pastoral care and counseling, campus ministry, and education. Wherever they serve, elders carry their vows of 'Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service' as ordained representatives of the church of Jesus Christ.
For more than 200 years, the distinguishing mark of elders in the Methodist tradition has been the willingness to offer themselves “without reserve to be appointed and to serve” (¶333) wherever they are needed for the sake of the mission of the church. The elder makes a commitment to full-time service in the connection as an itinerant, “traveling preacher” under the authority of the bishop. All elders who are in good standing and continue to fulfill their professional responsibilities (¶340) shall be continued under appointment unless they are on leave and are assured equitable compensation for their ministry. (¶342)
The itinerant system has assured pastoral leadership for every local congregation and has enabled the appointment of women and ethnic minority persons throughout the church. It represents the missional thrust of Methodism and the desire to go wherever there is need for the preaching of the gospel, the celebration of the sacraments, and the mission of the church in the name of Christ.
Elder as Pastor in Charge
As pastor of a local congregation, the elder assumes responsibility to oversee the total ministry of the local church in its nurturing ministries and in fulfilling its mission of witness and service in the world. These responsibilities include administrative oversight, evangelistic leadership, and programmatic planning as well as spiritual nurture and pastoral care in the congregation. (Duties are outlined in ¶340). The pastor sets the vision and direction of the congregation for witness in the world and leads the church in worship and liturgical life.
Steps into the Ministry of the Elder
Listen for God’s call. The call to ministry as an elder in the church is different from a career option or a job opportunity. It is a call from God to serve the church and the world, proclaiming the gospel and leading the church in its mission and ministry. Listen for God’s call in your life.
Talk to a pastor. Your pastor is one of the most important guides in your discernment of the call. Others will serve in this role as well. Consult with youth workers, deacons, camp counselors, Sunday School teachers, campus ministers, and other Christian leaders who can help you discern the direction of God’s leading in your life. Get a copy of The Christian as Minister and the Ministry Inquiry Process from your pastor or another church leader. They can help you use these texts for further discernment of a call to ministry. Copies of these texts are available from a Cokesbury Book Store.
Meet with the District Superintendent. If God is leading you to pursue ministry as an elder, you will meet with the district superintendent, enroll in the Candidacy program, and be assigned to a candidacy mentor who will work with you through the Candidacy Guidebook. This program will prepare you for a public declaration of your call to ministry before the Pastor Staff/Parish Relations Committee, the Charge Conference, and the district Committee on Ordained Ministry.
Recommendation of Charge Conference. After completion of your explorations of ministry with a candidacy mentor, you will meet with the Pastor Staff/Parish Relations Committee and the Charge Conference. With Charge Conference approval, you will be recommended for certification as a candidate for ordination as an elder in The United Methodist Church.
Approval of District Committee. Following Charge Conference recommendation and continued work with a candidacy mentor, you will be interviewed by the district committee on ordained ministry that will approve you as a certified candidate for elder's orders.
Complete your education. For most persons this means an undergraduate degree plus three years in a United Methodist seminary or other approved school of theology. Upon completion of the educational requirements, you will be received into probationary membership in the annual conference for a period of at least three years.
Ordination as an Elder. Ordination comes as the fulfillment of this journey of faith, but it marks the beginning of a lifetime of leadership in “Service, Word, Sacrament, and Order.”