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Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) as a denomination is distinctive in two major ways: they adhere to a pattern of religious thought known as Reformed theology and a form of government that stresses the active, representational leadership of both ministers and church members.  The prominent theological themes of the church are the sovereignty of God, the authority of the scripture, justification by grace through faith, and the priesthood of all believers.  Presbyterians are active inside and outside the walls of church; they believe that neither the Church as the body of Christ, nor Christians as individuals, can be neutral or indifferent toward evil in the world.  Therefore, they have a responsibility to speak on social and moral issues for the encouragement and instruction of the Church and its members.  Historically, the denomination is rooted in the Protestant and Reformed traditions that originated in 16th century Switzerland and then traveled to Scotland and the U.S.; John Calvin and John Knox are pivotal theologians of the faith.

Traditionally, ministry within the Presbyterian Church (USA) is done within a congregational setting.  Presbyterian minsters could also serve as hospital, hospice, military, or campus chaplains, as well as domestic or international mission co-workers, church planters, or bi-vocational professionals.  The ordination process stems from a calling from God.  Anyone that feels such a call should contact their pastor or church board (called a session); one must be a member of the congregation for six months to be considered.  If the session confirms the individual call, the presbytery (middle/regional governing body) is notified.  The presbytery is the governing body responsible for the ordination process; this is carried out by their Committee for the Preparation for Ministry (CPM).  The CPM works with individuals and sessions to assist in meeting the process requirements.  There are three stages to the ordination process.  Each stage is used to help affirm one’s call to ministry.  After the session and the CPM have confirmed the initial call, the individual becomes an inquirer.  This step of the process is meant to serve as a time of discernment and prayer; inquirers are interviewed by the CPM, asked to draft a personal statement of faith, and complete their first of five ordination exams.  An inquirer could also be asked to draft additional essays, as well as complete psychological and vocational testing.  To progress to the next stage, inquirers are examined (questioned) by the members of the presbytery.  The presbytery will vote to progress the inquirer to candidate status.  As a candidate, one must complete all the academic requirements, complete field education requirements (could include CPE), pass the additional four ordination exams, and draft a statement of faith.  Candidates are again examined and voted on by the presbytery before being certified and ready for a call.  This is the time when individuals begin job hunting and looking for an ordained call.  Only once a church has extended a call (offered a job) and the presbytery has confirmed the call is someone ordained.  The entire process often occurs concurrently with a three-year M.Div. course of study; it must take a minimum of two years.

The first step is to join a church and begin to prayerfully discern the call to ministry. 

Denomination website: is external)

Preparation for ministry/ Ordination exams:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

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 “candidacy.” During this phase, full and intensive preparation occurs under scrutiny of the session and the Presbytery 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.

For more information, please contact your presbytery.

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