I’ve been in the process of becoming Ordained on the United Methodist Church for about 9 years now. I still find myself answering questions on a regular basis about the process and the titles and what it all means. So this article is an attempt to explain some of the process and fancy words that our church uses to talk about ordination.
First of all, what is Ordained Ministry? As United Methodists, we believe that all people are called to ministry. At their baptism, all members of the church are called to ministry, both within their local church and outside in the community and the world. We are all called to serve. When we join the church, we pledge to support it with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. So we are all ministers. We are all in ministry with Christ. But some of us feel God calling us to a set apart ministry. This set apart ministry can come in three different forms.
Some people feel called to be a Local Pastor. These pastors go through special training after which they can serve in a local United Methodist congregation. Many Local Pastors serve in smaller churches which can’t afford a full-time pastor. They have the authority to perform the sacraments (Holy Communion and Baptism) and all other functions of a senior pastor.
Some people feel called to be an Elder. They usually work as a pastor in a local church. They are required to attend Seminary (a fancy name for school where you learn to be a pastor) and they must get a Masters of Divinity degree. After passing a difficult interview with the Board of Ministry (a group of pastors and non-pastors in each Conference), they are Commissioned as an Elder. At this point they officially become a Reverend (and can pastor a church) but they must go through a 2 year trial period, called Residency. After that they have to interview with Board of Ministry again to become Ordained as an Elder.
Other people (including me) feel called to be a Deacon. They can work in a local church (as a Youth Minister, Children’s Minister, Music Minister, Christian Education, Missions, etc) or in the community (at a hospital, school, local mission, etc). Their work is often described as taking Christ to the world. There are several paths to becoming a deacon. You can go to Seminary (with several degree options) or there are simpler paths for people with more life experience. The Deacon candidate goes through the same Board of Ministry process as an Elder, being Commissioned and then Ordained as a Deacon.
There are several differences in the ministry of the Elder and Deacon. The Elder has the authority to perform the sacraments and the Deacon can only assist with them (unless given permission by the bishop to do so). The Elder is told by the Bishop what church to serve and the Deacon finds their own position in a local church or organization. But the main difference is the focus. The Elder is focused on a local congregation. The Deacon is focused outwardly, taking Christ to the world.
Do you think that God might be calling you to Ordained ministry? If so, find an ordained person to talk with. Ask your Senior pastor for guidance or find another ordained person to help you discern God’s call in your life. What ministry is God calling you to?
Georgia Harrison is a veteran and certified youth worker in the North Texas Conference. She’s an ordained deacon and an all around awesome person. She is married to Charles Harrison and they have two amazing kids. The whole family has a heart for missions like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, if you’d like to tell her how great she is or just hear more about mission opportunities, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be blessed. (Georgia didn’t write her own bio, just in case you were wondering. -EJ)