Finding Your Calling
In Acts 2, we read the story of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to believers. Men and women, young and old, from the leaders of the household to the servants of the household, all were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to serve and represent Jesus Christ in the world. In the gospels, Jesus teaches all his followers to be servants.
It is important to remember that all Christians are ministers. Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” As this scripture suggests, all saints, or believers, are called to ministry, but some are called and set apart for a level of leadership and service in the Church that equips the laity in their ministry.
In Acts 6, we see an ordering of ministry emerge among those called to equip others in their ministry. Some came to believe that they were called to serve and lead the Church around the proclamation of the Word. Those same leaders also came to believe that others were called to connect the Church to the community and the world through ministries of service, administration, mercy and justice.
Below is the ordering of ministry that the United Methodist Church uses to help people respond to the particular call God is extending to them.
Deacons—The Order of Deacons (from the Greek diaconos meaning servant). 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).
Elders—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.
Local Pastor—In the United Methodist Church, the term “local pastor” is used for pastors who have taken the path to be licensed, rather than ordained. Their educational journey differs from that of an ordained minister. They also must be approved annually by the district committee on ordained ministry to maintain their license. With their license they are available to be appointed 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 church/charge. Local pastors may be approved to serve either full-time or part-time.
Certification—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 persons 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.
Missionaries—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.