PATHWAYS TO MINISTRY
How do you go about deciding if you want to work in a full-time, paid position in The United Methodist Church?
First, you need to know something about what kind of work is needed in the church and how we historically understand these callings.
Remember: All Christians are ministers. All are called to service. While some United Methodists will be ordained as clergy, others are called to the ministry of the laity, paid or volunteer. (From our baptism, we are part of the general ministry of the church.) The laity are best suited to carry out many of the ministries of the church.
Some people are called to become ordained deacons serving in specialized ministries of service connecting the church and the world. Others are called to be ordained elders to serve in the pastoral ministry and to administer the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.
Some elders are elected to the office of bishop, and others are appointed district superintendents. Let us first look at those you probably think about when you consider full-time, paid people who work for the church: deacons, elders, local pastors, and certified people in an area of specialized ministry.
The Order of Deacons (from the Greek diaconos meaning servant.) As you can read in Acts 2 and 6, this calling came first. We all follow Jesus’ example: we become servants like Jesus.
The United Methodist Church makes clear in The Book of Discipline that deacons are called to a ministry of Word and Service. They teach, preach, and, with elders, lead in worship. Deacon’s ministries of service connect the gifts of the congregation with the needs in the world through peace and justice work and other service.
Deacons equip and support all baptized Christians in their ministry and extend the witness and ministry of Jesus Christ into the world. Deacons also conduct marriages and lead funeral services, as well as assist elders in baptism and Holy Communion. They can be appointed within a local church or serve in appointments beyond the local church. They are ordained by a bishop, serve under the guidance of a bishop, but unlike elders, do not itinerate (move from place to place).
The Order of Elders (from the Greek work presbutero meaning priest, elder, or presiding officer.) You might be accustomed to referring to this leader as a pastor. The elder or pastor has been called by God to a ministry of Service, Word, Sacrament, and Order. They, too, preach, teach the scriptures, and lead in worship. They preside at the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism, conduct marriages and lead funeral services, and are the administrative officers of the local churches. Sometimes elders serve in extension ministries beyond the local church.
The work of an elder also includes overall administrative leadership for the mission and ministry of the church, pastoral care and counseling for people who are in crisis, and visiting parishioners in their homes or in places like hospitals and prisons. Bishops are chosen from among elders and remain elders throughout their ministry.
A local pastor is approved annually by the district committee on ordained ministry and licensed by the bishop to perform all the duties of a pastor, including the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion as well as the service of marriage (where state laws allow), burial, confirmation, and membership reception, while appointed to a particular charge.
The United Methodist Church offers professional certification for people who want to serve with excellence in areas of specialized ministry. This is a process that involves the meeting of personal, professional, and church standards including academic studies in their area of specialization as required by the church for their chosen area of work.
The United Methodist Church has been certifying people in Christian education, music, evangelism, youth ministry, older adult ministry, camping and retreat ministry, spiritual formation, church communications, and church business administration for many years.
Another important division of labor in The United Methodist Church is the work of missionaries. All missionaries are commissioned for a special ministry whether they are a layperson or ordained. Therefore, this is not an office or order, but calls on all offices of the church–lay, ordained deacon, and ordained elder. Some missionaries are sent out around the world; others serve in their home countries. Missionaries are ministers sent out on a mission, and it is an exciting life.
Under the guidance of the General Board of Global Ministries, the church also trains church and community workers to serve the needs of the world in a variety of settings. If they meet the standards set by The United Methodist Church for ordination, church and community workers, missionaries, and professionally certified personnel may become deacons or elders as well.
Yes, it gets a little complicated! But these explanations should give you a better idea of the many options you have, whether you are called to preach and teach or to serve as a professionally certified worker, a commissioned missionary, or a church and community worker.
The best way to understand each of these callings is to talk with someone doing the work. Do you know a deacon or a pastor or a bishop or a district superintendent or a full-time lay church professional?
Your experience, learning, and prayer may be guiding you in the direction of a ministry within the “connection” of The United Methodist Church.
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