Serving as a Local Pastor

In the United Methodist Church, you can serve as the pastor of a church without being ordained. You can serve as a licensed pastor, also known as a “local pastor.” One reason for becoming a licensed pastor is to be able to begin serving earlier than it would take to complete both a college degree and a master’s degree in a seminary.

The ability to begin serving after so brief a period of preparation is of benefit to the person who has been called by God to serve and wants to begin without delay. Having a new cadre of ministers ready to serve each year is also a benefit to the United Methodist Church and the South Georgia Conference, which has churches each year needing leadership. A licensed local pastor can be full-time or part-time. The advantage for some of being part-time is being able to carry on their present job and serve a church nearby.

Initial District Committee Approval

To be a licensed local pastor, you must complete all the candidacy requirements and be approved as a certified candidate by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. At the same District Committee meeting you can also request licensing and be approved for licensing school and licensing as a local pastor. During your time in the candidacy process, you should be making your desire to serve a church known to the District Superintendent.

Licensing School

The next step toward licensing is Licensing School. Licensing School is a "crash course" in being a pastor. The South Georgia Conference joins with the North Georgia Conference to provide our students with a premier Licensing School using the resources and campus of Emory University in Atlanta. It is a ten-day school that is usually set to end the Saturday in May before Memorial Day. To apply, go to www.candler.emory.edu, click "Programs," click "United Methodist Course of Study," click "Licensing School," and read the information you find on that page. The link for the online registration is located on that page. Your District Superintendent and local pastor registrar, Dr. Jay Harris, will verify that you are a certified candidate. Payment information is included. Registration must be completed by March 31. This will ensure housing reservations and allow time for pre-course assignments to be completed. Your registration fee of $500 is the part you pay for the 10 days of intensive instruction, plus room and board. Your conference pays the additional $850 that it costs.

You must attend Licensing School in May in order to be available in June for an “appointment” (meaning, a place to serve). (The only exception is if you have already taken one-third of your classes for your Masters of Divinity degree in a United Methodist approved seminary.)

Appointment, Granting of the License, Rights and Privileges

When your District Committee has approved you, and you have attended Licensing School, you are then available for the bishop to appoint you to a church or “charge” (one or more churches served by a single pastor). You will work through your District Superintendent through the appointment process. As a person approved for a license, you are not guaranteed an appointment, but are subject to an appointment being available. You do not actually receive a pastoral license unless and until you are appointed. Once you are appointed, your license allows you to perform all the duties of a pastor, including the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion as well as the service of marriage, burial, confirmation, and membership reception. Your ability to perform these tasks is tied to your license, so your rights to perform these tasks are limited to the place and to the people to whom you have been appointed as pastor only for as long as you are their pastor. When one is not appointed, the license should be given to the district superintendent, who will keep it on file.

Other rights and responsibilities of a local pastor include:

  • Attending the Annual Conference sessions as the clergy delegate of your pastoral charge.
  • Ability to vote on all matters presented to the Annual Conference, except constitutional amendments, and matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of clergy
  • Associate Members and licensed pastors who have completed either a Master of Divinity degree or completed the Basic Course of Study may participate in the election of delegates to general and jurisdictional conferences (35). All other licensed pastors may not vote on delegates to general and jurisdictional conferences.   
  • Ability to serve on boards, commissions, and committees.
  • Participation in the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members which is organized to provide mutual support for its members for the sake of the life and mission of the church. The function of the fellowship is to:
    • Provide regular gatherings of members.
    • Encourage local pastors to continue study beyond the Course of Study.
    • Develop a bond of unity and common commitment among the members.
    • Enable the creation of relationships that allow mutual support and trust.
    • Each year at the Annual Conference, a lunch gathering is scheduled.

Choosing and Following an Educational Path

A ten-day Licensing School only gives the student the very bare minimum to begin serving the local church. When you become a Licensed Local Pastor, you make a covenant with the United Methodist Church to continue your education. The continuation of your license depends upon you fulfilling the educational requirements set by our Book of Discipline.
There are two educational paths for licensed local pastors. Some licensed local pastors continue their education by choosing to pursue college and their Master of Divinity in seminary with the goal of eventually being ordained. Other licensed local pastors, either out of necessity or choice, opt out of getting a college degree and a Master’s degree. Instead, they continue their education through a part-time school known as the Basic Course of Study.

Course of Study (COS)

Our nearest regional Course of Study school is Emory University in Atlanta. The Basic Course of Study provides a well-balanced program of ministerial education, involving twenty foundational courses. These courses are divided up into five levels or five “years,” although they can be taken over the course of five to eight years (if a full-time local pastor) or up to twelve years (if a part-time local pastor.) The courses are grouped into four 100 level courses, four 200 level courses, four 300 level courses, four 400 level courses, and four 500 level courses. While it is best to take all the courses in sequence, only 100 level courses are permitted the first year, and 500 level courses can only be taken at the end in the last year.

It is possible for those who have credit hours toward a Master of Divinity Degree to have their transcript reviewed for credit toward the Course of Study. Email the Director of Ministerial Services, Jay Harris, at jharris@sgaumc.com, and ask for your transcript to be reviewed for credit toward the Basic Course of Study and the Advanced Course of Study.

The norm for a full-time local pastor is 4 classes per year, and for a part-time pastor it is 2 classes per year. A “Summer School” is offered each year in July in two back-to-back, one-and-a-half week sessions, allowing the student to take two courses per session for a total of four courses in three weeks. In addition to Summer School, there are weekend hybrid courses where the student can take a course in the Winter, late Spring or early Summer, and Fall. There is a Satellite School offered in Florida, and an Extension School offered in Alabama, but these are only available for part-time local pastors, not full-time. There are also several online courses offered through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Registration for Course of Study

To learn more about Course of Study, schedules, policies, registration, and forms, go to www.candler.emory.edu, click "Programs," and click "United Methodist Course of Study." If you have questions, call the number provided for Amy Walker, and she will answer most of your questions. You will need to follow the instructions for the online registration process. Your District Superintendent and local pastor registrar, Dr. Jay Harris, will verify that you are approved for the local pastor license and are in compliance with policy. Through the online registration, you will be informed how to pay your registration fee. The South Georgia Conference, through the Ministerial Education Fund, grants $425 for each course in the COS. Out of this grant, the tuition cost is paid directly to the school (usually $250 per course). The remainder of the $425 grant (usually $175 per course) goes to the student to reimburse the student for registration fees, books, and travel costs.

Contact Information for the South Georgia Local Pastor registrar

Dr. Jay Harris
P.O. Box 18149, Macon, GA 31209
Email: jharris@sgaumc.com

Also available to answer your questions about your education, the Course of Study, and Licensed Pastoral ministry are Rev. Steve Purnell (Chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members), and Rev. Steve Meguiar (Local Pastor Representative) Contact: srpurnell1@gmail.com, and meguiarsteve@yahoo.com).

Supervision and Assignment of a Mentor

The District Superintendent is the supervisor of the local pastor. A licensed local pastor shall also be assigned a mentor while in the Basic Course of Study or while in seminary. Contact your District Superintendent about being assigned a mentor.

Annual Review by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry

A licensed local pastor must be approved annually by the District Committee on Ordained Ministry in order to maintain the pastoral license. The Committee will be contacting you to schedule an interview. In additional to checking your personal and professional growth and education, the Committee will check on your effectiveness as the pastor of a church.

Making Satisfactory Educational Progress

A local pastor must make satisfactory progress in the educational path they have chosen in order for the District Committee to give their approval for the continuation of your license.

For Course of Study students, satisfactory progress means staying on schedule to complete the Course of Study in the time allotted by the Book of Discipline, which is up to eight years for full-time local pastors, and twelve years for part-time local pastors.

The Discipline permits annual extensions beyond the prescribed limit upon a three-fourths vote of the District Committee, recommendation of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, and the vote of the clergy members of the annual conference. Because we are living into more strict compliance in our District Committees, the DCOM may choose not to discontinue a clergy member automatically, but may choose to place the clergy member on probation. While on probation, if classes are not taken in any given year beyond the prescribed limit, the DCOM would then vote to discontinue.

The intent of the time limit is not to allow pastors to postpone taking any classes until they reach the 8-year or 12-year limits. The pastoral education of licensed pastors is important for their professional growth and to enable them to provide the level of leadership and ministry that the church deserves. When local pastors do not take their first classes within two years of being licensed, the local pastors must explain to the DCOM why they have not taken classes, and inform the DCOM of their plan to take classes in the coming year. The DCOM may choose to discontinue them, or put them on probation until they come into compliance.

Licensed Local Pastors, who are College Students or Master of Divinity Students in an approved seminary, must also make satisfactory educational progress. They must be enrolled in their school. You are no longer considered enrolled if you have not taken classes in any six-month period. You must take at least 12 credit hours per year in an approved college or seminary. Finally, you must verify your educational progress through yearly submissions of your transcript to the Director of Ministerial Services, Jay Harris, at jharris@sgaumc.com, or P.O. Box 18149, Macon, GA 31209, who will then forward your transcript to your District Committee.

Advancement Possibilities for Licensed Pastors through Course of Study

Although many Licensed Local Pastors remain local pastors and pursue very fruitful ministries until their retirement, there are possibilities for advancement: Advanced Course of Study, Associate Membership, Provisional Membership, and Ordination as Elder.

Associate Membership: An Associate Member is a licensed pastor who has fulfilled certain educational requirements, passed a rigorous examination by the Board of Ordained Ministry, and approved by the Annual Conference to be an Associate Member of the Annual Conference. An Associate Member, rather than being subject to annual review, is granted the same security of appointment as a clergy member in full connection. In return, they must offer themselves to the itinerant system, without reserve, to be appointed where the bishop and cabinet directs them. They retain their license for pastoral ministry and relationship to the annual conference after retirement.

Requirements for Associate Membership are:

  • Has reached age forty
  • Served at least four years as a full-time local pastor
  • Completed the five-year Basic Course of Study
  • Completed a minimum of sixty semester hours toward a bachelor’s degree (roughly equivalent to an Associates Degree)
  • Updated Medical History, Transcripts, Biographical Form 102, Updated Summary from the Psychological Assessment Committee
  • Updated Criminal Background and Credit Check (See instructions for obtaining the check through the necessary forms in “The Candidacy Process” instructions.)
  • Been approved by the District Committee
  • Passed the written examination and interviews with the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry
  • Check this webpage for “Required Work for March BOM Interviews” for a complete description of the written examination and interview by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry for Associate Member.

Advanced Course of Study: The purpose of the Advanced Course of Study (ACOS) is to provide a curriculum that will enable a local pastor to meet the educational requirements for full conference membership and ordination as an elder. Local Pastors will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree and the five-year Basic Course of Study. Advance Course of Study classes do not duplicate those included in the five-year Basic Course of Study. They are more rigorous in study, equivalent to master’s degree classes. They are intended to fulfill the basic graduate theological studies requirement for provisional and full membership, including United Methodist history, polity, and doctrine.

Provisional Membership (through the Course of Study): While the usual way of becoming a Provisional Member is through a Master of Divinity program at an approved seminary, there is a way to become a Provisional Member through the Course of Study.

Requirements are:

  • Has reached age forty
  • Served at least four years as a full-time local pastor
  • Completed a bachelor’s degree
  • Completed the five-year Basic Course of Study
  • Completed the Advance Course of Study consisting of 32 semester hours of graduate theological study.
  • Updated Medical History, Transcripts, Biographical Form 102, Updated Summary from the Psychological Assessment Committee
  • Updated Criminal Background and Credit Check (See instructions for obtaining the check through the necessary forms in “The Candidacy Process” instructions.)
  • Been approved by the District Committee
  • Passed the written examination and interviews with the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry
  • Check this webpage for “Required Work for March BOM Interviews” for a complete description of the written examination and interview by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry for Provisional Elder Membership.

Full Membership and Ordination as Elder: When a full-time local pastor meets the requirements through Basic Course of Study and Advanced Course of Study and is commissioned as a Provisional Elder, then he or she goes through the same process as any other Provisional Elder to be ordained as an Elder in full connection. The path to ordination through the Course of Study Program is a long process, but a doable process.

Contact Information for Licensed Ministry Representatives:

Dr. Jay Harris (Local Pastor Registrar)
P.O. Box 18149, Macon, GA 31209
478-475-9286
Email: jharris@sgaumc.com

Chair of the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members
Rev. Steve Purnell
912-354-3411
Email: srpurnell1@gmail.com

Local Pastor Representative
Rev. Steve Meguiar
c) 912-657-8844; o) 912-367-2446
Email: meguiarsteve@yahoo.com