ALCOA, Tenn. (Nov. 7, 2018) -- It’s a beautiful fall weekend. You would love to be outside, maybe watching your kid play soccer or working on your lawn. Or maybe you have to work on the weekends, and it’s not easy to get time off and even more difficult to give up the income.
Yet you feel called to be a United Methodist pastor, and attending seminary is not an option. So you find yourself driving down to Alcoa, Tennessee, on a Thursday night. For the next three days, you’re going to attend Local Pastor Licensing School (LPLS) in the Holston Conference.
The 2018 LPLS was attended by 20 people answering God's call to serve the mission of Jesus Christ through serving a local congregation in The United Methodist Church. The students attended classes in preaching, history, evangelism, theology, polity and more, all led by 19 clergy over three, three-day weekends in August, September, and October. The final weekend concluded Oct. 14 at the Alcoa Conference Center.
The students came from six of the Holston Annual Conference’s nine districts -- from as far north as Bluefield, Virginia, and as far south as Athens, Tennessee. The Appalachian District (in the Big Stone Gap and Kingsport area) sent the most students: six. Two students came from Dalton, Georgia, and Auburn, Alabama, representing other annual conferences.
In recent years, the class has included African-American, Hispanic, and South Sudanese students. The 2018 class was comprised of all white students.
Missy Belote attended LPLS from Kingsport, Tennessee, where she is lay leader at First Broad Street United Methodist Church. “It provided practical instruction on things like weddings, funerals and baptism, but I also appreciated Local Pastor School for its emphasis on teaching the soft skills like evangelism and cultural context,” she said.
At age 41, Belote is in the middle of this year’s students whose ages ranged from the 20s to the 60s, according to Marci Villaneuva, the administrative assistant who has helped organize Holston’s LPLS for the last decade. Twenty is a typical class enrollment, but Villaneuva remembers a bumper crop of 27 total students in 2015, 28 in 2016.
“Local pastors pay a vital role in our denomination and annual conference,” says the Rev. Terry Goodman, conference secretary and registrar for the Board of Ordained Ministry. Of 630 appointments in Holston Conference, 218 are held by local pastors. Two-thirds of Holston’s local pastors are part-time. (Holston Conference includes 872 churches. Some pastors serve more than one church at once.)
For many years, there have been fewer incoming elders to replace retiring clergy in the denomination, according to research from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. At the same time, a growing number of United Methodist churches find they can’t afford the minimum salary and benefits required for a seminary-trained elder.
Local pastors help the appointment cabinet fill in the leadership gaps when they sit down each spring to make clergy assignments for the coming year.
“Local pastors are not ordained but are licensed to preach and conduct divine worship and perform the duties of a pastor,” according to the denomination’s Board of Higher Eduation and Ministry. “They are appointed, but need not make themselves available as itinerant ministers.” In other words, local pastors are typically not required to move every few years, as elders may be.
In Holston Conference, students attending LPLS have already taken several steps in the process that could lead to their appointment to a local church.
Persons who feel they might be called to ministry are first encouraged to speak to their pastors, who will likely ask him or her to write a letter to the district superintendent to begin the “candidacy ministry process.”
In January, persons who have entered the “candidacy process” are invited to a Candidacy Summit, where they receive further information and help from church leaders to continue discerning their individual calls to ministry.
The next Candidacy Summit is Jan. 11-12, 2019, at the Alcoa Conference Center.
Between Candidacy Summit in January and LPLS in the fall, candidates work with mentors and take numerous steps to gain approval from a variety of committees. “We want people who search, who’ve been searched, queried, tested and approved by all the groups along with way,” Goodman said.
After completing LPLS, students are officially on a waiting list to receive a license and an appointment to a church – which is not guaranteed but happens for most during Annual Conference in June.
Most LPLS classes include students who are already serving churches as “supply pastors” or “lay ministers.” Steve Ryman, a student in this year’s class, has been serving Pocahontas United Methodist Church and Christ First United Methodist Church, near Bluefield, Virginia, since July 2017.
“The classes on learning how to grow your congregation and prepare your sermon brought out insights that I haven’t really thought of before,” said Ryman.
Local Pastor Licensing School requires a time commitment as well as a financial commitment. The cost for each student to attend Holston's LPLS is $750, sometimes paid by the student’s home church or district. The fee for attending Holston's Candidacy Summit is $400 per candidate, which may be subsidized by the candidate's local church or district.
The 2019 LPLS will be held Aug. 9-11, Sept. 13-15, and Oct. 11-13. The 2019 curriculum will be taught through 30 classes, including online instruction.
For information about Holston's candidacy ministry process, contact Rev. Tim Jones, vocational discernment coordinator, at 865-690-4080 or timjones@Holston.org.
Contact Annette Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When did you know? 8 Call to ministry stories (The Call, 10.8.18)
Candidacy: 13 begin process toward clergy credentials (The Call, 1.13.16)
Local pastors on the rise (UMNS, 9.25.15)
29 students approach final weekend of LPS (The Call, 4.2.15)
Serving as a local pastor (GBHEM)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.