Ordained Ministry in the United Methodist Church
How to Order
The material featured on this page is from a brochure and DVD set called Ordained Ministry in The United Methodist Church. The brochure and DVD can be ordered from Cokesbury at 1-800-672-1789 or on their website.
How does God call people to ordained ministry?
Each person feels God’s call in a different way. Sometimes during prayer or communion, you may feel a strong urging or encouragement to consider full-time ministry. On a mission trip or at a church retreat, you might sense that God seems to be inviting you to consider ministry as a vocation. Sometimes, however, you may sense that calling while you’re in the middle of one of your everyday routines – attending class, working at your job, or spending time with friends. And it may be that someone has said something to you that started this train of thought. However, when the invitation comes, you have to decide how you will answer that call; whether God is calling you to use your gifts and talents as an ordained minister
You also need honest feedback. Talk with your family, friends, and your pastor or another ordained deacon or elder. Share your thoughts and plans with these people and ask their advice. How do they see you sharing your skills, gifts and talents with others?
What is the difference between a deacon and an elder?
Both deacons and elders are ordained clergy. Most often, elders work as local church pastors, but they can also serve in places other than local churches. Deacons focus on a specialized ministry based on their talents and interests, and how they discern God calling them. The deacon ministry is one that connects the church to the needs of people in the world and leads the church in its servant ministry.
Elders and deacons are both appointed to a post by the bishop. However, elders are itinerant, meaning they will serve wherever their bishop appoints them. They are guaranteed an appointment as long as they are in good standing with their annual conference. Deacons are non-itinerant. Their appointments may be self-initiated, or initiated by an agency seeking their service, the district superintendent, or the bishop. They are not guaranteed an appointment, but they are able to search for their own positions, giving them the freedom to make changes when needed. Once they find a position, they ask the bishop to approve their appointment.
If you are ready to take the next steps in exploring the possibility of ordained ministry, contact your pastor or another deacon or elder, your district superintendent, and read our Web site, www.gbhem.org, for more information.
Ministry of the Elder
Ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service
Elders lead and serve the entire church in the ministries of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. The elder has primary responsibility for Word, the apostolic task of communicating the faith and proclaiming God’s Word. This includes primary responsibility for the preaching and teaching ministry, although preaching in the United Methodist tradition also includes the lay minister, the local pastor, and the associate member. The elder is responsible for administering the sacraments and ordering the ministry of the church. Most elders serve as pastors in charge of local congregations. However, elders may be appointed to extension ministries (¶343), and serve in a variety of settings. Bishops and district superintendents are chosen from among ordained elders, because the ordering of ministry and administering the Discipline are the elders’ responsibilities.
Ordained ministry has its roots in servant leadership. As servant leaders, elders embody the teachings of Jesus wherever they are appointed (¶340.2d). For John Wesley this meant refusing the limitations of parish boundaries and claiming the world as his parish. Today, elders lead in service by organizing the church for its mission and service in the world. Through prophetic preaching, biblical interpretation, sacramental administration, theological reflection, and organizing the church for ministry, the elder equips Christians for their ministry of service in the world. Elders appointed to extension ministries (e.g., chaplaincy, counseling, campus ministry, and education) also carry out this task. Wherever elders serve, they carry their vows of ‘Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service’ as ordained representatives of the church of Jesus Christ.
Ministry of the Deacon
Ordained to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice
Deacons are called by God, authorized by the church, and ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice, to both the community and the congregation in a ministry that connects the two. Deacons exemplify Christian discipleship and create opportunities for others to enter into discipleship.
The work of deacons is the work of justice, serving, and equipping others to serve the needy, neglected, and marginalized with compassion. In the congregation the deacon leads, teaches, and proclaims the Word in forming and nurturing disciples.
Deacons Provide Leadership
- In the teaching and proclamation of the Word
- In worship and in assisting the elders in the administration of the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion
- In inspiring and nurturing disciples
- In conducting marriages and funerals
- In the congregation’s mission to the world
- In leading the congregation in response to the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world
For the sake of extending the mission and ministry of the church, the bishop may grant local sacramental authority to a deacon in the absence of an elder in the deacon’s primary appointment (¶328).
Ministry of Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors
Apart from serving God in the local church, ordained clergy may also be appointed to ministries in specialized settings which extend Christ’s love and justice into the world. These settings are usually institutions with the primary purposes of education, international security, peacekeeping, incarceration, healthcare, or profit. To serve in these settings, clergy are expected to have ecclesiastical endorsement.
Endorsement is the process established by the church to ensure clergy possess the needed skills and capabilities and are appropriate representatives of the denomination. Endorsement serves as the church’s affirmation for ministry in a specific ministerial setting.
Requirements for Ecclesiastical Endorsement (¶1421.5)
Those seeking endorsement to a specific setting must meet the following criteria:
- Associate member, provisional deacon or elder, or ordained deacon or elder
- Degrees from an accredited college and a University Senate-approved seminary
- Additional requirements as specified by the ministry setting