Tuesday, March 21, 2006


"To Become a Certified Candidate
1. Submit written response to questions in ¶311.3 (b)

Question 2: What is your understanding of the ministries of deacons, local pastors, and elders within The United Methodist Church?


My understanding of the order of deacon is that the deacon is ordained to “a lifetime ministry of Word and Service” [1]. Deacons are a unique order different in role and function from their cousins in ordained ministry- the Elder/Traveling Minister, and the Licensed Local Pastor. The distinct roles of deacon that sets them apart for ministry is that they are clergy who 1. do not iternerate; 2. are specifically set apart for the ministry of “service”; and 3. serve one another as a “covenant community” of mutual accountability and support.[2]

Deacons serve a unique role as clergy in that they are not called to itinerate. As an order who is called to be in ministry of specific “service” to a certain congregation or community, I believe there are strong benefits to this. As I mentioned before, this order is set apart for the ministry of “Word and Service”. As the order of Deacon has been shaping itself over the last several years- the emphasis to a ministry of “service” is played out in many ways such as: social work, Christian Education positions, business administrators, musicians, and various other service oriented positions. Within these various kinds of work, to have consistency of presence could be very healthy for the life of the community who is impacted by these various roles and ministers. Because of the nature of the ministry of the deacon, he or she is responsible for initiating his or her own employment. So while they are members of annual conference, they are employed by a local church or agency on a different basis from other clergy. [3]


Local pastors have a rich history within the Methodist movement but also maintain a rather ambiguous role within contemporary United Methodism. Although local pastors are not ordained, they are persons “who are licensed as ministers to preach and conduct worship services and to perform the duties of a pastor under appointment, such as administering the sacraments.”[4] Historically, local pastors have been a foundation of support for our denomination where there are far more local churches than ordained clergy, providing pastoral leadership for many small member congregations. Local pastors are divided into three categories, all of which have to complete a candidacy process and receive a local pastor’s license.[5] The Student local pastor serves the role of local pastor while he or she is attending to a pre-theological or theological degree program. After they complete the requirements they may choose to continue on a specific ordained ministry track of Elder or Deacon’s orders. Part Time Local Pastors are appointed to a charge on a part time basis. Full Time Local Pastors are appointed to a local church on a full time basis with at least the minimum salary established by the annual conference.[6]

Although in many ways the licensed local pastor’s role looks similar to that of the Elder or Travelling Minister, there are some differences. Local Pastors are set apart to administer sacraments and oversee the equipping of a congregation’s vision and mission, but they are commissioned to do so in one specific congregation that they are serving. Local pastors also do not itinerate although they are under appointment by the Bishop of their annual conference.[7] Also, the local pastor has to renew his or her license every year.


The order of Elder goes back to the Methodist renewal movement in Britain and the early frontier of America. From their beginning the Elder/Traveling Preacher’s intention has been embodied in a covenant to which all preachers have subjected themselves. Every Methodist preacher is considered a missionary who is part of a set apart Mission Community to whom each are accountable to. “Every preacher since their inception has been given a place to preach; and likewise every preacher agrees to go where sent.”[8] The traditional term “traveling preacher” indicates the role of missionary that the elder takes on through itinerating under appointment, also having the authority to administer the sacraments. [9] No further or “higher” order exists in United Methodism; bishops remain elders.”[10]

Elders are set apart and called to preach. Along with this specific call, the elder ought to exhibit the gifts and graces necessary for assisting a congregation on their spiritual pilgrimage as a faith community.

Elders are also responsible to others within the covenant community of elders. As the Book of Discipline states, “Elders in full connection with an annual conference by virtue of their election and ordination are bound in special covenant with all the ordained elders of the annual conference.”[11]

Elders, as a part of a missionary community, agrees to itinerate. A United Methodist pastor ought to view himself/herself as a missionary who is assigned to a local church on “behalf” of a wider connectional church. So, the pastor is charged with assisting a congregation in planning, goal setting its mission- while nurturing along the empowerment of the laity to do the “work of the people” within their congregation.

[1] 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶ 320; (United Methodist Publishing House, 2004)

[2] 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶ 320; (United Methodist Publishing House, 2004)

[3] Frank, Thomas Edward; Polity Practice and Mission of the United Methodist Church; (Abingdon Press; 1997); p. 183

[4] Waltz, Alan K., A Dictionary For United Methodists; (Abingdon Press; 1991) p. 118

[5] Frank, p. 185

[6] Frank, p. 185

[7] http://www.gbod.org/laity/certlaymin.pdf, Lynn Daye, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, (website accessed March 21, 2006)

[8] Frank, Thomas Edward; Polity Practice and Mission of the United Methodist Church; (Abingdon Press; 1997); p. 187

[9] Frank; p. 188

[10] Frank; p.188

[11] 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶ 307; (United Methodist Publishing House, 2004)


1. 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline; (United Methodist Publishing House, 2004)

2. Dave, Lynn; http://www.gbod.org/laity/certlaymin.pdf, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, (website accessed March 21, 2006)

3. Frank, Thomas Edward; Polity Practice and Mission of the United Methodist Church; (Abingdon Press; 1997)

4. Waltz, Alan K., A Dictionary For United Methodists; (Abingdon Press; 1991)


ChrisK said...

It seems to me that the "itinerate" nature of ministry in the Methodist church is not an asset to the church's modern day ministry. While I will agree that it heightens the involvment of laity, it tends to reduce the importance of the clergy. A man is only going to be at a particular location for a short period of time and then off to another church. Also, I find the "missionary" idea to be amiss. Missionaries traditionally serve with people groups new to the faith. Many/most elders, at least with America, serve established congregations.

Do you ever see a day when the Methodist church will forgo this practice?

St.Phransus said...

i think it is possible that it will take a different form and possibly even done away with, but i hope that it doesn't.

here's what i like about it:
1. the pastor is part of a "set apart" community within a larger congregational community. from the get go in being called to ministry the person called to ordained/pastoral ministry is isolated- it't can't be about "God told me to be a preacher and so now I'm a preacher"- there is a real communal aspect to becoming a united methodist pastor.

2. this "practice" is something that makes us unique and is part of who we are.

3. every elder is guaranteed a church.

i think these are wonderful gifts that pastors can give a congregation and gifts a congregation can bring a pastor.

thanks chris.

ChrisK said...

I am a long time reader of your Blog and always enjoy reading your post! You raise some very interesting issues. I am a candidate for ministry in the UMC as well. In many ways, the process has been rewarding. In others, it has been very cumbersome. I agree that the communal effort is a much better way of identifying those with the gifts and calling to engage in ordained ministry. But, there are many traditions that move a candidate from the congregational setting toward ordination. In the UMC, in my opinion, where the process leaves the local church is where it becomes unnecessarily complicated. The UMC practice is bogged down in so many rules and regulations, and the course is so cumbersome, that many prospective ministers get overwhelmed.

Notwithstanding, if one is called to the UMC and has a genuine mandate from God, he will do what is necessary to succeed. Given the overall lack of personnel in the UMC, however, I would think that they would lack some of these practices.

My own pastor sits on the board for ordained ministry here in the NC conference. He has apologized to me over and over again for the “red tape” of the process. I am not trying to be disrespectful, but most UMC pastors that I know, feel grateful to have survived the process rather than feeling pride in being a part of an elite fraternity.

One could surmise that because of this process, UMC clergy are of greater quality and therefore, not as prone to failure. I certainly cannot cite comparative statistics, but I am not sure the UMC shields itself from ministerial impropriety because of its more elaborate entry procedures. Just because someone makes it through, does not necessarily mean that they will succeed.

In jest, after you get through the process--once you get jump through all the hurdles--you will feel that they owe you a church and a stable income. I really am not trying to sound cynical, but it is a monumental undertaking. And I do applaud you for being true to your inner sense of call. In the end, regardless of the degree of difficulty involved in becoming an ordained minister, any time spent in preparation will be worthwhile.

St.Phransus said...

i don't disagree with ya chris on what you've shared. but i also wonder if there is a disconnect between our modern understanding of role and function of elder and where the "story" of the elder within our tradition has come from.

and i don't think that being a pastor is being part of an elite community- but they are part of a "set apart" community. there is nothing elitist in that. there is something "communal" in it. we are so individualistic in our thinking that we have a hard time thinking of our vocation as communal.

the very fact that elders are members not of congregations but of a the annual conference sets them apart in and of itself, does it not?

thanks for your thoughts and encouraging me to think through mine, as well.


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