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What are “Clergy” in the United Methodist Church?

Have you ever wondered who the Clergy are, and what it means to be ordained? The excerpts below from our denominational websites might help to answer some of those questions…

Types of Clergy in the UMC


Elders are ordained United Methodist clergy who are ordained to a ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. This means elders preach and teach the Word of God, provide pastoral care and counsel, administer the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, and order the life of the church for service in mission and ministry.

The servant leadership of the elder takes place both in parish ministry as well as in extension ministries, like chaplaincy. Elders itinerate, which means they serve in ministry settings (appointments) where the bishop assigns them.

Deacons and Diaconal Ministers

Deacons are ordained United Methodist clergy who lead the church in relating Christians to their ministries in the world through worship leadership, preaching, teaching, nurturing spiritual vitality and leading ministries of service, love, and justice. They may work primarily in congregations or they may work primarily in settings like hospitals, social-service agencies, mission agencies, schools, counseling centers, denominational agencies, and more. Learn more about how deacons serve and lead.

Diaconal ministers are United Methodist laypeople who lead in service ministries. The United Methodist Church no longer consecrates new diaconal ministers. However, many diaconal ministers are still in active service. If you are a diaconal minister, visit this section of the Board of Ordained Ministry Handbook for information on how you relate to the annual conference.

If you feel called by God to be a layperson in a ministry of love and justice, check out the office of home missioners & deaconesses.


Licensed Local Pastors

Local pastors are not ordained but are licensed to preach and conduct divine worship and perform the duties of a pastor. They are appointed, but need not make themselves available as itinerant ministers. Local pastors may also serve in extension ministries settings. They are not elected into membership of the annual conference.

A local pastor answers God’s call to serve the mission of Jesus Christ through serving a local congregation in The United Methodist Church. When appointed, the local pastor performs the usual duties of a pastor, including preaching and teaching; leading in worship and liturgy; receiving new members; performing the sacraments of baptism and The Lord’s Supper; and performing the services of marriage (where state laws allow), burial, and confirmation. The local pastor’s authority is only within the appointment setting and does not extend beyond it. The local pastor is not ordained, and serves under the authority of a license for pastoral ministry after completing the steps outlined in ¶ 315 of The Book of Discipline (2012) and meeting any annual conference requirements.


The Role and Duties of Clergy in the UMC

The United Methodist Book of Discipline defines the role and duties of the Clergy as follows:

¶ 142. Definition of Clergy-Clergy in The United Methodist Church are individuals who serve as commissioned ministers, deacons, elders, and local pastors under appointment of a bishop (full- and part-time), who hold membership in an annual conference, and who are commissioned, ordained, or licensed.

¶ 143. Employment Status of Clergy-Ministry in the Christian church is derived from the ministry of Christ (¶ 301). Jesus makes it clear to us that he is a shepherd and not a hireling (John 10:11-15). Similarly, United Methodist clergy appointed to local churches are not employees of the local church, the district, or the annual conference. It is recognized that for certain limited purposes such as taxation, benefits, and insurance, governments and other entities may classify clergy as employees. Such classifications are not to be construed as affecting or defining United Methodist polity, including the historic covenants that bind annual conferences, clergy, and congregations, episcopal appointive powers and procedures, or other principles set forth in the Constitution or the Book of Discipline (see e.g., ¶¶ 301; 328-329; 333-334; 338; 340). In addition, any such classifications should be accepted, if at all, only for limited purposes, as set forth above, and with the full recognition and acknowledgment that it is the responsibility of the clergy to be God’s servants.

¶ 340. Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors
1.The responsibilities of elders are derived from the authority given in ordination. Elders have a fourfold ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service and thus serve in the local church and in extension ministries in witness and service of Christ’s love and justice. Elders are authorized to preach and teach the Word, to provide pastoral care and counsel, to administer the sacraments, and to order the life of the church for service in mission and ministry as pastors, superintendents, and bishops.

2. Licensed pastors share with the elders the responsibilities and duties of a pastor for this fourfold ministry, within the context of their appointment.

a) Word and ecclesial acts:

(1) To preach the Word of God, lead in worship, read and teach the Scriptures, and engage the people in study and witness.
(a) To ensure faithful transmission of the Christian faith.
(b) To lead people in discipleship and evangelistic outreach that others might come to know Christ and to follow him.
(2)To counsel persons with personal, ethical, or spiritual struggles.
(3)To perform the ecclesial acts of marriage and burial.
(a) To perform the marriage ceremony after due counsel with the parties involved and in accordance with the laws of the state and the rules of The United Methodist Church. The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.
(b) To conduct funeral and memorial services and provide care and grief counseling.
(4)To visit in the homes of the church and the community, especially among the sick, aged, imprisoned, and others in need.
(5) To maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law.

b) Sacrament:

(1) To administer the sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord according to Christ’s ordinance.
(a) To prepare the parents and sponsors before baptizing infants or children, and instruct them concerning the significance of baptism and their responsibilities for the Christian training of the baptized child.
(b) To encourage reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and renewal of baptismal vows at different stages of life.
(c) To encourage people baptized in infancy or early childhood to make their profession of faith, after instruction, so that they might become professing members of the church.
(d) To explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and to encourage regular participation as a means of grace to grow in faith and holiness.
(e) To select and train deacons and lay members to serve the consecrated communion elements.
(2) To encourage the private and congregational use of the other means of grace.

c) Order:

(1) To be the administrative officer of the local church and to assure that the organizational concerns of the congregation are adequately provided for.
(a) To give pastoral support, guidance, and training to the lay leadership, equipping them to fulfill the ministry to which they are called.
(b) To give oversight to the educational program of the church and encourage the use of United Methodist literature and media.
(c) To be responsible for organizational faithfulness, goal setting, planning and evaluation.
(d) To search out and counsel men and women for the ministry of deacons, elders, local pastors and other church related ministries.
(2)To administer the temporal affairs of the church in their appointment, the annual conference, and the general church.
(a) To administer the provisions of the Discipline.
(b) To give an account of their pastoral ministries to the charge and annual conference according to the prescribed forms.
(c) To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation. To ensure membership care including compliance with charitable giving documentation requirements and to provide appropriate pastoral care, the pastor, in cooperation with the financial secretary, shall have access to and responsibility for professional stewardship of congregational giving records.
(d) To model and promote faithful financial stewardship and to encourage giving as a spiritual discipline by teaching the biblical principles of giving.
(e) To lead the congregation in the fulfillment of its mission through full and faithful payment of all apportioned ministerial support, administrative, and benevolent funds.
(f) To care for all church records and local church financial obligations, and certify the accuracy of all financial, membership, and any other reports submitted by the local church to the annual conference for use in apportioning costs back to the church.
(3)To participate in denominational and conference programs and training opportunities.
(a) To seek out opportunities for cooperative ministries with other United Methodist pastors and churches.
(b) To be willing to assume supervisory responsibilities within the connection.
(4) To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness.


(1) To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership.
(2) To give diligent pastoral leadership in ordering the life of the congregation for discipleship in the world.
(3) To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world.
(4) To participate in community, ecumenical and interreligious concerns and to encourage the people to become so involved and to pray and labor for the unity of the Christian community.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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