Recongnition of licensed local pastors at the 2018 Celebration of Life in Ministry Service. Photo by jlynn studio.
"I have been in ministry for 20 years and still have student loans. I worked full-time in ministry and had to do weekend intensive and online classes. There were no scholarships for part-time students, so I am where I am. I have debt, but LOVE working for the Lord and his Kingdom!" These are the words of Rev. Suzi Grote Larson who serves in extension ministry as a licensed local pastor (LLP).
Grote Larson is a licensed local pastor who has completed her course of study. Rev. John Britt and Rev. Michele Slott will join Grote as a Course of Study graduate. During the 2019 Annual Conference, in Bismarck, North Dakota, June 6-8, 2019, course of study graduates, along with newly appointed licensed local pastors will be recognized.
Local pastors are not ordained but are licensed to preach and conduct divine worship and perform the duties of a pastor. They are appointed but need not make themselves available as itinerant ministers. Local pastors may also serve in extension ministries settings. The Dakotas Conference is building a scholarship fund to support those on the journey to become a licensed local pastor through the 2019 Miracale Offering: Lead Boldly! #fillthegap
Rev. John Britt describes his call as a gradual process. He began by teaching high school then middle school Sunday school. That led to volunteering with the high school youth group. Pastor John filled an interim, without pay, for the position of youth ministry director. When someone was hired, he returned to volunteer status under two more youth directors.
Rev. John Britt. File photo of Dakotas UMC.
"All the while I was teaching and coaching in a middle school," says Rev. John Britt, who currently serves at Winner UMC. "Then the church was again searching for a youth director in 2010. I applied and was hired. I traded my coaching responsibilities for 20-hours of youth work at the church. During the next two years, I continued to teach but felt an increasingly louder call to enter full-time ministry. Pastor Doug Diehl encouraged this transition. In 2012, I resigned my teaching contract and began life as an LLP. Looking back, I can see many others who encouraged my call. I can now see each step along the way as one closer to vocational ministry."
Two things happened for Rev. Michele Slott, who serves at Rapid City First UMC as she explored her call to ministry. First, she served on a task force, to understand why people don't go to church.
Pastor Michele says, "I went around and asked people I knew to share their stories. Hearing from them opened up a well of compassion within me. I felt like people were rejecting God for what people had done. I just really wanted to help people get connected or reconnected to an ongoing journey discovering Jesus and who they are because of him."
Rev. Michele Slott. Photo courtesy of Rapid City First UMC.
Slott was struggling to find meaning in her career at the time. "As much as many parts of my job were still excellent, and I loved the people, I had trouble finding satisfaction in it anymore. I could feel the pull to do something more," she says.
She attended a lay speaker training in Mitchell with Jodi Cataldo. The training included filling out a spiritual gifts inventory. When Cataldo looked at the results, she said, "You know, this has pastor written all over it."
Both Britt and Slott decided to follow the path to the ministry by becoming a licensed local pastor because of their family and career shifts.
"When I finally surrendered the decision to God, I had to decide my path," says Pastor John. "At that point in my family's life, I had a son in college and one about to head off to college. Seminary was just not a financially feasible option for us at the time."
Pastor Michele explains her journey. "As I was going through the process of becoming a certified candidate and weighing the options, I couldn't imagine uprooting my family. My kids were 9, and 12 and my husband had (and still has) a commercial photography business where being available quickly for a shoot if a client called was pretty important," says Pastor Michele. "Also, he had moved back to Rapid City from Dallas, Texas to be closer to his mom. She was in her early 90s at that point. Moving didn't seem like an option. I also couldn't imagine the debt of attending traditional seminary full time. I remember looking at the cost online and wondering what the likelihood would be of me getting a huge scholarship to cover the cost. I also remember my mentor, Doug Diehl telling me the average seminary student at that time was graduating with at least $20,000 in student debt. The course of study just seemed like a better fit. I could keep my job, stay in Rapid City and fit in the travel for education as needed, and then stay close to Rapid City once my education was complete until our lives were more easily mobile."
The Dakotas Conference provides support through endowments and scholarships for students on the journey to become ordained deacons and elders. There are some funds available to assist those on the journey to becoming a licensed local pastor. The 2019 Miracle Offering Lead Boldly! #fillthegap will help with scholarships to local licensed pastors who are completing the course of study.
There are 20 required classes for those seeking to be licensed as a local pastor. Each course costs $250 plus the cost of fees, books, travel, and if needed housing. The Course of Study (COS) is prescribed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry – Division of Ordained Ministry (¶ 1421.3d). It includes License School and the Five-Year Basic Course of Study. In prescribing the COS, the Division of Ordained Ministry is responsible for developing curriculum, purpose and learning goals; providing resources; establishing, maintaining, and evaluating License Schools and Course of Study Schools (COS); keeping central records on all students, and reporting on student progress to each Board of Ordained Ministry every year. Read about the COS curriculum here, and the approved COS programs here.
Britt completed his work through the Native American Course of Study (NACoS) program and at Garrett Evangelical. "Both were awesome experiences, he says. "In NACoS I learned the coursework plus a lot about the culture and beliefs of many fellow LLPs. Garrett was more academically rigorous, and that pushed me more mentally and theologically. I graduated in July 2018 at Garrett and have begun the process to apply for associate membership in the Dakota's Conference."
Slott is finishing up her coursework through the Kairos program through a collaboration of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary and Sioux Falls Seminary. She says, "The Kairos Project is flexible learning, which is good because there were times when I had to tell my mentor team, I couldn't complete my work by the specified due date. Adding education to an already full plate is super-messy. I had to learn to reprioritize and let things fall that wouldn't break."
Even though the Course of Study is much cheaper than a full-time seminary, there are still financial obligations that LLP candidates have to manage. Between the aid the conference offers and continuing education funds available through the local churches Britt and Slott have experienced a minimal amount of out of pocket expenses.
Pastor Grote Larson says, "I have $30,000 in debt that I need to pay back from my journey. It is awesome, that today, not only that there are programs where work and school are possible, but that scholarships will be available!"
If God is calling you to become a pastor, but you do not see seminary as a reality for you, then you may want to consider becoming a local pastor.