Becoming a Presbyterian minister
Presbyterians believe that all persons are called to ministry in their communities; however, particular forms of leadership are needed for the work of the church. Presbyterians understand a call to ministry to have three parts: 1) an inner sense of call through the leading of God’s Spirit, 2) a community that tests this sense of call and 3) a call from a community to serve in a particular place.
A person who feels called by God to be a Presbyterian minister, also known as a “teaching elder” or “minister of the Word and Sacrament,” begins by expressing that desire to a church’s session (governing board). The person must be a member of that church, and have been active in its worship life and ministry to its community for at least six months. If based on its experience of the person through this shared ministry the session agrees the individual may be called by God to a particular ministry, the request proceeds to a committee of the church’s presbytery (regional governing body) that works with people to deepen their understanding of God’s call and to develop their gifts for ministry. There follows an “inquiry” period, during which the person explores the implications of becoming a minister together with the session and the presbytery committee. Its purpose is to determine the person’s suitability for ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
If the presbytery is satisfied regarding the individual’s suitability for ordination, it may advance the person to a second phase of preparation referred to as “candidatcy.” During this phase, full and intensive preparation occurs under scrutiny of the session and the presbytery’s oversight committee.
Unless a presbytery decides to make accommodations for particular life experience, candidates are required have a college undergraduate degree (usually four years) and complete a seminary degree (usually three years). In addition, candidates must pass national exams that demonstrate their competence in the fields of theology, Bible (including content and the interpretation of Scripture utilizing a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew), church polity, and worship and sacraments.
A candidate may only begin seeking a place for ordained service once the presbytery concludes there is evidence that the individual is ready to begin ministry of the Word and Sacrament. If the candidate receives a validated call to ministry, that presbytery ordains him or her as a teaching elder. Only a presbytery may ordain a minister, not a congregation.