A local pastor has answered the call from God to serve the mission of Jesus Christ through
the work of the local congregation in The United Methodist Church.
Overview of the Role of a Local Pastor in the United Methodist Church
A licensed local pastor is one who has answered the call to serve the mission of Jesus Christ through the work of a local congregation in The United Methodist Church. Local pastors are clergy members of the annual conference in which they are appointed.
What do licensed local pastors do?
A licensed local pastor is not ordained in The United Methodist Church but is licensed for pastoral ministry. A local pastor performs all the duties of a pastor, including proclamation of the Word of God, leading in worship and liturgy, performing the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, the services of marriage (where states allow), burial, confirmation, and membership reception. A local pastor has the authority of a pastor only within the setting and during the time of the appointment only.
What is the “call” to ministry as a licensed local pastor?
“Call” is God’s invitation to use God-given gifts and talents to minister in the local church. For some, the call comes early; for others, it comes later in life. Answering the call and living the vocation of a local pastor mirrors the call to Christian discipleship in the world. Help in determining God’s call is available at www.IsGodCallingYou.org. Specific information for youth and young adults is available at www.ExploreCalling.org.
The local pastor’s call is to order the life of a congregation. The local pastor oversees the total ministry of the congregation—its nurturing ministries and its mission of witness and service in the world. The local pastor gives pastoral support, guidance, and training to the lay leadership and helps them fulfill the ministry to which they are called. The local pastor has both administrative and supervisory oversight of the program and outreach of the congregation to which the local pastor is appointed.
What is the process for becoming a United Methodist licensed local pastor?
The first step is consulting with a pastor and studying materials to discern and define the call further. That is followed by further consultation with the congregation’s staff/parish relations committee and district superintendent, the help of a mentor, and recommendation by the district committee on ordained ministry. After completion of the studies for the local pastor at a license school, the candidate must be approved by the conference board of ordained ministry in order to be licensed and receive an appointment from the bishop.
What are the educational requirements for becoming a licensed local pastor?
Licensed local pastors must have graduated from an accredited high school or have received a certificate of equivalency before becoming a certified candidate. The local pastor must pursue theological education through an approved seminary or in the Course of Study.
What is an approved seminary?
An approved seminary is one that has been approved to train United Methodist clergy by The United Methodist Church’s University Senate. This list includes both United Methodist and non-United Methodist seminaries.
What are the license schools and the Course of Study?
The Course of Study is a basic theological education program prescribed by The Book of Discipline and offered by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. It includes license school, the five-year basic Course of Study, and the advanced Course of Study. Annual conference boards of ordained ministry offer license schools. The Course of Study is offered during the summer on the campuses of eight United Methodist seminaries. See the Licensing and Course of Study page for links to the PDFs of current offerings.
Isomar Alvarez, Local Pastor
Local Pastor’s Faith Journey Takes Long Path
He was born in Cuba, but Isomar Alvarez’s faith journey has taken him to Kentucky, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and back to Kentucky again. Though he was active in the Cuban Methodist Church and was told by others early on in his life that God was calling him to be a pastor, Isomar resisted the call.
He left Cuba for the United States and ended up in Louisville, Ky., where he started attending a United Methodist church. He agreed to teach an English-as-a-second language class in the church. Soon, members of that English class asked that he lead a Bible study for them, and he did. Next, these class members wanted a worship service, and they asked Isomar to lead it. “I realized this was God’s back-door way of getting me to say yes to ministry,” he said.
“God worked so fast that it was awhile before I looked up and realized I was in the pulpit, preaching, and giving the sacraments. And what a wonderful time it was in my life — coming to realize all the love and concern and care I have in my heart for the people in my local church. It is a privilege to be with them in their most joyous times and in their times of deepest pain.”
Isomar faced his own faith challenge in October 2003. He and his wife were traveling between church meetings when they were involved in a terrible car accident. Isomar survived; his wife did not. Caught up in grief and anger at his wife’s death, Isomar took several months’ sabbatical, questioning his ministry, his understanding of God, and his relationship to the world around him. Through much prayer and searching, Isomar realized that not only did he want to keep going as a pastor, he had to continue in ministry.
“My heart was so full of the Holy Spirit,” he says, “I knew God must give me a pulpit, or I would die.”
Asked for one word that describes his ministry as a licensed local pastor, Isomar responds: “Intense.” He says his relationship with his parishioners is intense, his relationship with his community is intense, and his relationship with God is intense.
He counsels those who are considering ministry as a licensed local pastor to “keep your eyes on Jesus. You will never be so blessed as when you are a pastor; it is most amazing to preach the gospel and to help people to live it in their daily lives.”
Challenges Facing Local Pastors in the United Methodist Church
Licensed local pastors are a necessary part of the itinerant structure of The United Methodist Church. When there is a shortage of seminary graduates available for appointment to churches, local pastors are asked to step in and fill the void. When new churches are started in ethnic and immigrant communities, local pastors from these communities often are appointed to care for these groups. When churches can no longer provide the salary package and benefits required for full-time itinerant ministry, local pastors are appointed to meet the needs of these congregations.
Since 1990, the number of part-time and full-time local pastors has grown in The United Methodist Church to meet these and other needs for pastoral leadership. Today more than one-third of United Methodist churches are served by local pastors and associate members, rather than seminary graduates or elders in full connection with the annual conference.
The use of local pastors presents some significant challenges to The United Methodist Church. Since local pastors are licensed and not ordained, that means more than one-third of our churches do not have ordained pastoral leadership. The challenge is to provide adequately trained pastoral leadership to a significant percentage of United Methodist churches. In some annual conferences, there now are more clergy members of the annual conference who are local pastors than there are ordained elders in full connection. This has meant a significant shift in the nature of the annual conference itself.
While seeking to maintain the highest standards for the education of local pastors, the church must find ways to include a greater number of Hispanic/Latino/a and other racial-ethnic pastors in their ranks. To this end, the church must find a way to develop educational systems that are culturally sensitive and meet the needs of a variety of congregations and communities requiring pastoral service
Steps Into Ministry as a Licensed Local Pastor
If you believe God is calling you to the ministry of licensed local pastor:
- Spend time in prayer and discernment, listening for God’s call in your life;
- Talk with your pastor;
- Read more about the subject, starting with The Christian as Minister
- Meet with your church’s staff/parish relations committee and talk with your district superintendent;
- Complete the candidacy process to become certified as a candidate for ministry;
- Meet with your district committee on ordained ministry to obtain their recommendation for further studies;
- Complete the studies for the licensed local pastor, including the annual conference’s license school and the Course of Study offered through various seminaries;
- Be approved by the annual conference board of ordained ministry;
- Provide the annual conference with a satisfactory certificate of good health and other evaluations as required by the annual conference;
- Be approved by the clergy session of annual conference;
- Be licensed and receive an appointment from the bishop.