In the late 18th century, the Methodist Church in the United States realized that settlers on the frontier had few or no churches to serve them. To meet the need, they began training circuit riders, traveling ministers who served small congregations on a circuit that was 200 to 500 miles around. These ministers rode the circuit, held worship services, married people and buried people. Except for the travel, modern Methodist ministers serve a similar function.
According to the United Methodist Church's "Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation," Methodist ministers are "entrusted with the spiritual lives" in their congregation. Not only are ministers responsible for the overall spiritual direction of their church, they are also charged with helping their congregation find spiritual direction in their private lives. They help people build productive attitudes, habits and practices that will foster their relationship with God.
On Sunday mornings, Methodist ministers will be in front of their congregations, leading the people in prayer and worship. Besides regular worship services, another part of the job is to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Ministers also conduct marriages and funerals. In short, Methodist ministers must be trained and ready to lead any of the public services of the church.
The word "pastor" means shepherd. Like a shepherd, Methodist pastors keep an eye on all aspects of the lives of their congregations. According the United Methodist Church's "Book of Discipline," ministers have the responsibility "to counsel persons with personal, ethical, or spiritual struggles." A minister can also help poor or unemployed members of the congregation find resources to help them feed and clothe their family.
From the beginning of Methodism, ministers have been teachers and preachers. In the early days, Methodist circuit riders would ride long distances on horseback, preaching and teaching in each town. Today ministers preach at worship services. They teach classes on Bible, theology and the history of the church to both children and adults. They also supervise lay teachers in their churches.
The day-to-day administration of church affairs is another facet of a Methodist minister's duties. The "Book of Disciple" calls these the "temporal affairs" of the church and declares them to be part of a minister's responsibilities. Ministers, with the assistance of other church workers, must keep financial records and must make sure that all the financial obligations of the church are met. They supervise care for church buildings, do fundraising, manage staff and keep church records.
Link to the Larger Church
Ministers must give an annual account of their church's affairs to the annual conference of the United Methodist Church. They work with other Methodist ministers to support ministries too large for a single congregation. They also make sure that the people of their congregations stay informed about the work of the United Methodist Church as a whole.
- The United Methodist Church: Pastor: Overview
- Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2013-2016 - Pastor-Parish Relations; United Methodist Church
- The United Methodist Church: Book of Discipline, ¶ 340: Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors
- General Board of Higher Education and Ministry: Local Pastor
- Forgotten Word Ministries: The Circuit Riders and the Spread of Early Methodism
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images