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
Who are elders?
Elders are persons called by God, authorized by the church, and ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service.
What does a ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service mean?
Like all baptized Christians, elders are committed to a lifetime of service, although this service manifests itself in different ways than deacons or the laity. The elder embodies, or brings to life, Christ’s teachings in servant ministries and servant leadership and gives pastoral leadership in ordering the life of the congregation for service.
Elders devote themselves to the ministry of the Word, which includes primary responsibility for preaching and teaching the Word of God.
The unique calling of elders is pastoral oversight for the ordering of the church. They also have primary responsibility for administering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. Because elders have been ordained to ordering the ministry of the church and administering church policies through the Discipline, bishops and district superintendents are chosen from ordained elders
Where do elders serve?
For most elders, their calling will be lived out as pastors in local congregations. However, elders are not restricted to local church service and may be appointed to extension ministries outside of the church walls.
How do elders find work?
Elders make a commitment to full-time service under the authority of a bishop, willing to serve wherever the bishop appoints. Elders serve continually and are assigned annually by the bishop to the same or a different appointment.
Ministry of the Deacon
Who are deacons?
Deacons are persons called by God, authorized by the church, and ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of Word and Service to both the community and the congregation in a ministry that connects the two.
What does a ministry of Word and Service mean?
Deacons devote themselves to the ministry of the Word, which includes sharing, teaching, and modeling the word of God.
Additionally, deacons are called to a lifetime of servant leadership, serving both the congregation and the world. This service is manifested in many ways, including:
- leading in worship and assisting the elders in the administration of the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion
- Additionally, for the sake of extending the mission and ministry of the church, a bishop may grant local sacramental authority to the deacon to administer the sacraments in the absence of an elder, within a deacon’s primary appointment.
- forming and nurturing disciples
- conducting marriages and funerals
- leading the congregation’s mission to the world
- leading the congregation in interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.
A deacon is called to serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick, and the marginalized, and to equip and lead the laity in ministries of compassion, justice, and service. The deacon’s leadership role exemplifies Christian discipleship, equips and supports all baptized Christians in their ministry, and connects the church’s worship with its service in the world.
Where do deacons serve?
Deacons can serve a variety of appointments. In local churches, deacons model, teach, and lead in equipping others to live out servant ministry and to serve others in and out of the church. In appointments beyond the local church, deacons serve and/or lead in a ministry of compassion and justice.
How do deacons find work?
Deacons’ appointments are approved by the bishop. However, unlike elders, 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.
Ministry of Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors
Who are chaplains and pastoral counselors?
Chaplains and pastoral counselors are elders or deacons who engage in ministries of pastoral care in specialized settings.
Where do they serve?
Endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors are appointed to prisons, hospitals, the armed forces, and counseling centers where they serve people in difficult places outside the local church.
What do chaplains and pastoral counselors do?
In more than 16 different civilian settings and in all areas of the military, chaplains and pastoral counselors care for those who are hurting physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Below are some of the endorsed settings where they serve.
- Hospital chaplains are spiritual companions with patients and their families. They listen and discern how the spirit of God may be working in patients’ lives. They administer sacraments upon request and provide opportunities for worship, spiritual reflection, and celebration. As part of a team, they work with doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and social workers to advocate for the patient. They work to help all the hospital staff understand pastoral care and the spiritual dimensions of illness, suffering, and death.
- Military chaplains live out Wesley’s words, “The world is my parish” in real and personal ways. Their ministry is incarnational in that they lives, sleep, eat, sail, and march with their congregation. They work alongside people from different faith groups in diverse settings which gives an opportunity to observe God’s work through people with different outlooks. Military chaplains go to all corners of the world to deliver rites, sacraments, and services to all who are in need and would otherwise be farthest from a local church.
- Correctional chaplains serve in unique and diverse communities to preach, teach, baptize, serve communion, counsel, visit and serve the prison congregation. They minister to inmates, staff and families, and are the link between religious communities outside and inside prisons, jails, or detention facilities.
- Pastoral counselors are trained in theology and as a professional mental health counselors. They serve in counseling centers, on the staff of local churches, and in health-care institutions working with individuals, families, and groups where their counseling is within the tradition, beliefs, and resources of the faith community. Their ministry includes counseling and interpretation, biblical storytelling, speaking truth to the powerful, listening attentively to the sacred stories presented by those in the counseling space, and responding as God’s representative.
How do they find work?
Generally, chaplains and pastoral counselors are required to be ordained, to complete specialized training for a specific setting, and to receive the church’s endorsement through the United Methodist Endorsing Agency (UMEA), General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Endorsement is both a process and a relationship that determines readiness for pastoral ministry in specialized settings.
As with all ordained persons, chaplains and pastoral counselors are appointed to serve by the bishop of the annual conference through which they are ordained.