Licensed to Pastor


The path to becoming an ordained elder or deacon in the United Methodist Church is a long road, involving college degrees, seminary, probationary periods and board approval. The road to becoming a licensed local pastor is considerably more direct. About 40 percent of churches in the Missouri Conference are being served by local pastors now. Before they become licensed local pastors, they must first complete Licensing School. This year the school was held in late May at Central Methodist University.

Most students arrived for their week-long stay on Sunday evening. Classes started Monday morning with Missouri Conference Director of Financial and Administrative Ministries Nate Berneking sharing story of Jesus calling the fisherman, noting that at first it may seem that the original Christian disciples had it easy. They didn’t have to go to Licensing School.

“Jesus said to follow, and they followed. It was so simple,” Berneking said. But Berneking recalled seeing people fish in Beira, Mozambique, and described what a hard life they had, fraught with physical danger and unpredictable results.

“You can understand why they left their nets – fishing is insane. Who would want to do that?” Berneking said. “The only thing more unpredictable than fishing for fish is fishing for people.”

Their decisions affected more than themselves. In the ancient world, to manage retirement people had children to care for them when they got old. They left their family business, and the consequence of that fell on their parents.

“I don’t know where you’ve been, and what you’ve left behind. The same call that Jesus put on his disciples he has put on us,” Berneking told the students. “Some of you are probably excited to be here, and some of you would much rather be at home. If you’re already serving a church, your church would probably rather have you at home, too. But this is one expression of your response to the call.”

Berneking explained a little about the composition of the Missouri Conference, the number of churches and how apportionments work. He then transitioned to Director of Pastoral Excellence Karen Hayden, who spoke to the group about their spiritual formation and self-care. She asked people to share from their own practices about things that renew them.

Hayden cautioned the pastors-tobe against working too long without a day off. She’s recognized that in her busiest time of the year, she still needs to make some time at night to sit on the porch. “Sometimes we need to be silent before the Lord,” she said.

Diverse Roads Lead to Pulpit

Many different paths brought people to the campus of Central Methodist University for Licensing School.

James Moss was an operating room orderly at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. His faith background was a mix of Pentecostal and Baptist, but he found a church home that was a good fit for him in Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City.

He became actively involved in that church and stepped up to leadership roles, where he was noticed by Rev. Kendall Waller, the Heartland District Superintendent who frequently attended worship at Resurrection Downtown with his family. Waller connected Moss with Woods Chapel UMC in Lee’s Summit, because he knew they were looking for help with their young adult ministry. Moss got the job, which was 12 hours a week.

But when Rev. David Hutchison left Faith/Grain Valley to take a position at Central Methodist University, Waller reached out to Moss again, this time with a fulltime appointment.

Moss had served in the appointment as a lay minister for five months before attending licensing school. In a conversation with a friend, it was noted that his career change from the operating room to the church had its similarities.

“As an orderly in the ER I would clean up amid the chaos and hold people when they were falling – and that’s also what a pastor does,” Moss said.

Lori Landon was a United Methodist when she was very young. When her family moved to a neighboring town, they moved their church membership to the nearby United Church as Christ.

As an adult, she had a wide range of experiences in different religions, including living with a Muslim family in Indonesia. Recently she has been a student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and has been involved in pastoral care and grief ministry at First UMC in Kirksville. Now she is going to be pastor of a church on her own – LaPlata UMC, a quarter-time charge. She’s looking forward to it, and is a little intimidated.

“I’ve preached before to fill in, but this will be the first time I’ve ever had to come up with a sermon week after week,” she said.

Brad Gebben is in his third year of seminary at Eden Theological School in St. Louis. He’s from Effingham, Illinois, and has just been appointed to serve Mt. Olive and Cedar Grove in the Gateway Regional District. He’s put his faith in the system.

“I’m here because this is where my DS said I need to be,” Gebben said.

John Heats attended Licensing School without an appointment, but he did have an interview scheduled with Director of Congregational Excellence Bob Farr. Heats graduated from Saint Paul School of Theology more than 20 years ago, but continued working in real estate development rather than entering ministry. He’s earned 40 continuing education credits since then, and has occasionally preached at his home church, St. John’s UMC in Kansas City.

There were 33 people at licensing school. They would return to churches ranging from small country churches to staffs of mega churches.

“I never went through licensing school, because I didn’t serve a church before I was ordained,” said co-director Karen Taylor.

“Looking back, I wish I would have. They can learn so much here to help them get started.”

Jack Gillespie has been lay leader, sound tech and lawn mower man for Asbury UMC. Now he’s going to be pastor at McCurdy.

Julie Nelson has been serving Virginia UMC as a lay minister for a year. She’s looking forward to her licensed local pastor status.

“It will be nice to not have to call in an elder to serve communion,” Nelson said. “Having licensed local pastor status should help everyone in the church feel better about my role, both my parishioners and myself. It makes it official.”