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It is said that John Wesley believed in the value of a having both a warmed heart and a trained mind. The United Methodist Church requires its clergy to be educated. This is true whether a person chooses to be ordained or chooses to be licensed.
It is important that you start your educational requirements correctly and without delay. We will describe the educational journey of those seeking to become elders or deacons, and then describe another educational path that licensed pastors may take.
In the South Georgia Conference, if your goal is to become an ordained elder or deacon, you will first need to meet the undergraduate requirement. A candidate for either elder or deacon must have completed a bachelor’s degree from a college or university that will be recognized by the seminary you will attend. (For an exception to the Undergraduate Requirement that can be made in certain rare circumstances, see Par. 324.3.)
After the undergraduate requirement is met, you will need to meet the graduate requirement (Master’s Degree). It usually takes a full-time student three years to complete graduate level education toward a career in ministry. It is important to understand that not all seminary or graduate level theological classes will be accepted. Do not waste your time and money for course work that cannot be accepted! For a list of approved schools go to www.gbhem.org, click “Clergy,” and follow the links related to seminary, theological education, University Senate until you get to a “List of Approved Schools.” There you will find the list of United Methodist Seminaries and Non-United Methodist Seminaries that are approved by the United Methodist Church. If you have been called to United Methodist ministry after having attended a non-approved school, then you should send a transcript to Jay Harris, Director of Ministerial Services at firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask for your transcript to be reviewed for possible partial credit toward ordination. Also note that not more than two-thirds of a person’s graduate work can be taken online. Be prepared for having a resident learning experience that represents no less than one-third of your seminary education.
For Elder candidates—A candidate for elder must complete the course work required for a Master of Divinity degree (M.Div.) from a UM seminary, or UM approved school as determined by the University Senate. The following basic graduate theological studies must be included: Old Testament; New Testament; theology; church history; mission of the church in the world; evangelism; worship/liturgy; and United Methodist doctrine, polity and history. In addition to these Disciplinary requirements, South Georgia candidates for elder must take two (2) on campus courses in preaching: the two preaching courses cannot be taken exclusively online.
For Deacon candidates—A candidate for deacon must complete a master’s degree. The Master’s Degree can come from a UM seminary or UM approved school, OR the Master’s Degree can be in the candidate’s chosen area of specialized ministry, as long as the candidate has also completed the following basic graduate theological studies from a UM seminary or UM approved school within the context of a cohesive program developed by the seminary and approved by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry: Old Testament; New Testament; theology; church history; mission of the church in the world; evangelism; worship/liturgy; and United Methodist doctrine, polity and history. (For an alternate educational route for deacons involving professional certification or license in the candidate’s chosen area of ministry, see Par. 324.5.)
It is important to know that it is only after all the educational requirements for being an elder or deacon have been completed can a candidate be commissioned as a provisional elder or provisional deacon. All educational requirements must be completed by the end of May of the year you would be commissioned for provisional membership at the June Annual Conference. The South Georgia Conference wants a person to have their educational requirements completed before their three-year provisional period begins, so that the focus in those three years can be on a person’s continued professional development with the academic part behind him or her. It is after this three-year provisional period that a candidate first becomes eligible to be ordained and become a full clergy member of the annual conference. It is safe to say that the journey toward ordination, because of the education involved, is a long, yet rewarding journey.
You also want to learn about the Ministerial Education Fund which helps pay for ministerial education.
All who would become Licensed Local Pastors must first go to Licensing School unless they have already completed one-third of a Master of Divinity degree at a UM seminary or UM approved school. After Licensing School, the licensed pastor must pursue one of two educational paths approved for licensed clergy as a condition for keeping their license and serving under appointment.
One approved educational path is to get a bachelors degree and then pursue a Master of Divinity degree at a United Methodist seminary or one approved by the United Methodist Church. Licensed local pastors most often take this path when they are serving under a license in order to prepare for ordination as an elder.
Other licensed local pastors have the option of taking an alternative educational path that does not involve both a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Divinity degree. Either because of age, or stage of life, or economics, or because of another job they are keeping, these licensed pastors choose a part-time educational option known as the Basic Course of Study, which involves twenty foundational courses in Bible, theology, and ministry 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). More information about the Course of Study can be found under Licensed Local Pastor info.