“[Jesus] himself granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NRSVue)
Have you ever wondered where pastors come from? When I was a district superintendent, a clergy elder in the annual conference overseeing pastors and churches in their geographical area, I was also responsible for working with the bishop to assign pastors in my district. Most of the time, people appreciated the pastors the bishop appointed to serve their congregation. Did I say, “Most of the time?” Yes, there were times when people didn’t like the pastor assigned to their church. In those cases, people often said, “Why can’t you find us a good pastor?!!!” I had a standard reply, “Well, when was the last time you helped someone in your congregation discern a call to ministry?” I already knew the answer before I asked. It had been decades, in most instances.
Pastors aren’t born as pastors. We’re not some unique species created separately from “normal” people. Every pastor in the United Methodist Church started as a regular human being, just like you! We were laypersons working in the life of our church alongside all the other laypersons.
First, we were brought to the church by our families. Then, the church baptized us into the ministry of all believers. We were then confirmed into the church, making a profession of faith. Finally, we discerned that God was calling us into professional ministry, frequently after someone in the congregation “called out” the gifts and graces they saw in us for Christian ministry. After discerning God’s call, we had to meet with the Staff-Parish Committee in our church, who examined (questioned) us about our call to ministry. If we convinced them God had called us, we stepped up another level in the United Methodist connection and met with the District Committee on Ministry (DCoM).
The DCoM comprises clergy and laity from churches in the district who also examine us to see if we can convince them that God is calling us. If the DCoM approves us to take the next step, we will be eligible to attend Licensing School to obtain a license to preach, after which we can serve as local pastors.
Local pastors preach in the churches to which we are assigned. We can perform the sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion) but only in the local church to which the bishop appoints us.
Suppose we want to become ordained elders who can perform all the functions of a United Methodist Pastor in any setting. In that case, we must complete a four-year undergraduate degree and qualify to attend seminary. After completing my undergraduate degree at Birmingham-Southern College, I served a church in Alexander City. At the same time, I attended the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, balancing my pastoral ministry and theological education while working to become a probationary member of the North Alabama Conference. I could qualify as a probationary member after completing ½ of my theological education, writing papers on United Methodist Doctrine, Polity, and the Called and Disciplined Life, defending my work before the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (BoOM), and receiving the endorsement of those clergy and laity on the BoOM to continue my journey to ordination as an Elder in the church.
After completing my seminary education and serving as a probationary member of the annual conference for two years, I could submit new papers to the BoOM on United Methodist Doctrine, Polity, and the Called and Disciplined Life, demonstrating growth in my understanding and awareness of God’s call upon my life. Again, I defended my papers and received the endorsement of the BoOM to be elected as a full member of the annual conference and receive ordination as an elder in the United Methodist Church.
I share this because we have a layperson who grew up in our congregation and has heard God’s call to ministry. Katie Dobbins was approved by our Staff-Parish Committee and Charge Conference (Administrative Board) last November, and the DCoM has agreed for her to move forward to the next step in the ordination process. Katie will be our preacher this Sunday as she prepares to travel to Atlanta to begin her theological education at the Candler School of Theology. Having a candidate for ministry coming out of the Florence First UMC is a privilege and an honor. She has a long road ahead of her, so we must be diligent in supporting her on this sacred journey.
I hope you will be here this Sunday to hear Katie’s sermon on Legacy from 2 Peter 1:3-8. We’ll have her back in the future, where we can witness her growth as a person God calls to Christian Ministry.
See you Sunday, and don’t forget to bring your friends!