Order of Elder

Elders are ordained United Methodist clergy who 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 in ministry. The servant leadership of the elder, in both parish and extension ministries, is expressed by leading people of God in worship and prayer; leading people to faith in Jesus Christ; exercising pastoral supervision; and order the Church in mission in the world. They serve as parish pastors, but may also serve extension ministries such as chaplaincy. They are itinerant (amenable to assignment and appointment by the bishop). They are members of the annual conference session with the rights and responsibilities this entails.

The Ministry of the Elder

Those whose leadership in service includes preaching and teaching the Word of God, administration of the sacraments, ordering the Church for its mission and service, and administration of the discipline of the Church are ordained as elders.

The 2016 Book of Discipline, paragraph 303.2

Ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service

Most elders are parish pastors. They have a ministry of Word: preaching and teaching the Word of God. They are responsible to ensure that the people of God receive the grace of God through the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. They order the ministry of the church for service in mission and ministry -- both on the congregational level and in the wider United Methodist Church. (For this reason, bishops and district superintendents are chosen from among the elders.) Their service ministry is expressed by leading the people of God in worship and prayer, leading people to faith in Christ and ministry to their neighbors, providing pastoral care, and exercising pastoral supervision.

Some elders serve in extension ministries such as chaplaincy, campus ministry, teaching, missionary work, general agency work, and other contexts. Learn more here about endorsed chaplaincy ministry.

Licensed local pastors are appointed to similar ministry; however, their authority is in the local church and not across the annual conference.

Itinerant Clergy

For more than 200 years, elders in the Methodist tradition have agreed to offer themselves "without reserve to be appointed and to serve" wherever they are needed for the sake of the mission of the church. The elder makes a commitment to full-time service in the connection as an itinerant, "traveling preacher" under the authority of the bishop. All elders who are in good standing and continue to fulfill their professional responsibilities shall be continued under appointment unless they are on leave and are assured equitable compensation for their ministry.

The itinerant system has assured pastoral leadership for every local congregation and has enabled the appointment of women and ethnic minority persons throughout the church. It represents the missional thrust of Methodism -- to extend the gospel and develop communities of Christian disciples who build the realm of God according to Jesus' teachings.

How to Become an Elder

If you believe God is calling you to ministry of the Elder, spend time in discernment, listening to God.

  • Talk to your pastor or campus minister and, if possible, an elder. God uses others to help in your discernment. Ponder the questions they suggest. Read The Christian as Minister.
  • Meet with your area's District Superintendent. The superintendent may help you begin the candidacy process and assign you a candidacy mentor to help you continue discerning how God might be calling you to serve.

Elders in The United Methodist Church serve as parish pastors, university or seminary teachers, military or institutional chaplains, pastoral counselors, spiritual directors, and in many other places where they nurture people in God's love and order God's people in a worship and ministry.

The United Methodist Endorsing Agency provides endorsement, training and support for elders and deacons who serve outside of a congregation as chaplains or pastoral counselors. Visit the link for more information.

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry provides training and other resources for elders as they navigate the changing world and new ministry challenges.