The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.
United Methodists profess the historic Christian faith in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation and ever at work in human history in the Holy Spirit .... Our heritage in doctrine and our present theological task focus upon a renewed grasp of the sovereignty of God and of God's love in Christ amid the continuing crises of human existence. The Doctrinal Standards include the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and the Sermons and Notes of Methodist Movement founder John Wesley.
The United Methodist Church is self-described as intentionally decentralized and democratic. There is no single central office or leader. The Constitution of the church defines the basic organization of the denomination. Within the governance structure are three branches that produce a system of checks and balances:
- Legislative: The conferences and General Conference, the only entity that can speak for the denomination as a whole
- Executive: The Council of Bishops and general agencies
- Judicial: The Judicial Council
General Conference - 600 to 1000 delegates elected by annual conferences every four years; half are laity, half are clergy representing annual conferences around the world. This is the sole body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination. General Conference action may result in changes to the denomination's Book of Discipline, or church law, and Book of Resolutions, the church's stance on social issues, which is considered instructive and persuasive, but not binding. United Methodist general agencies are created by and responsible to the General Conference.
Jurisdictional/Central Conferences - In the United States, the United Methodist Church is divided into geographic areas known as jurisdictions, which provide program and leadership. Every four years, coinciding with General Conference, the Jurisdictional Conferences meet to elect bishops and select members for general boards and agencies. Central Conferences are annual conferences outside of the United States and have considerable freedom under the United Methodist Constitution to adapt disciplinary procedures to conditions of their areas as long as these procedures do not violate the Constitution or General Rules of the United Methodist Church.
Annual Conferences - The Constitution of the United Methodist Church refers to the annual conference as the basic body in the church. Each year all clergy members and an equal number of lay members selected from the local churches attend sessions to worship and attend to the business of the conference, including the ordination of clergy members and election of delegates to general and jurisdictional conferences.
District Conferences - The Discipline allows annual conferences to organize district conferences. Each district is led by a district superintendent, an elder appointed by the bishop to oversee the ministry of the district's clergy and churches.
Charge (Church) Conference - The United Methodist Constitution mandates a charge conference for each church or charge. All elected to the charge conference must be professing members of the United Methodist Church. The pastor is the administrative officer. To encourage broader participation, the charge conference may be convened as a church conference, extending the vote to all professing members of the local church present at such meetings.
The Council of Bishops
The Council of Bishops stands as the executive branch of the United Methodist Church. The bishops elected from the elders of the church at jurisdictional conferences and central conferences make up the Council of Bishops, who are directed to provide spiritual and temporal oversight for the entire church but have specific leadership responsibilities within their episcopal area, which is comprised of one or more annual conferences. Bishops are assigned by their jurisdiction or central conference to serve in their area for a four-year term. Bishops preside over sessions of the General Conference, but they do not have a vote.
The Judicial Council
The Judicial Council presides over the judicial administration of the United Methodist Church and is made up of nine members, clergy and laity, who serve for eight-year terms. The General Conference determines the number and qualifications of members, terms of office, method of election and filling of vacancies. Members are limited to two terms. The council is required to review each decision on a point of law made by a bishop during an annual conference session and hear other cases coming from an official body of the United Methodist Church asking for a declaratory decision regarding the legality of a specific action. All decisions of the Judicial Council are final.
Agencies and General Agencies
The Discipline includes the agencies and general agencies in its section on Administrative Order. These entities - described as an aspect of connectionalism - are charged with equipping the local churches for ministry and providing a connection for ministry throughout the world, offering opportunities to carry out mission in unity and strength. The agencies consist of the regularly established councils, boards, commissions, committees or other units with ongoing responsibilities constituted by the General Conference. All general agencies are amenable to the General Conference except as otherwise provided. The chief staff officer of a general program agency is known as the general secretary.
Role of Connectional Table
General Conference in 2004 created the Connectional Table as a place for collaboration, conversation and decision to oversee the coordination of mission, ministries and resources across the denomination. Between sessions of the General Conference, these agencies are accountable to the Connectional Table: The Board of Church and Society, the Board of Discipleship, the Board of Global Ministries, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the Commission on Religion and Race, the Commission on United Methodist Men and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
These are general boards and commissions with primarily administrative and service functions and include: Board of Pension and Health Benefits, The United Methodist Publishing House, the Commission on Archives and History, and the Commission on Communication, the last two of which also carry program-related responsibilities to which they are accountable to the Connectional Table.
Council on Finance and Administration
The Council on Finance and Administration is the chief financial body of the denomination. The Discipline mandates the council be incorporated in such state or states as the council may determine. The council reports to and is amenable to the General Conference and cooperates with the Connectional Table in the compilation of budgets for program agencies. All monies contributed by a local church to any of the general funds and other funds authorized by General Conference are held in trust by the council and distributed only in support of the ministries of the respective funds. The council submits budgets for each general fund of the United Methodist Church to General Conference and makes recommendations regarding other funding considerations to come before General Conference, in cooperation with the Connectional Table, which develops recommendations on needs of the general program agencies.
Compiled by the Rev. Joan G. LaBarr