Our Structure

Council of Bishops

“Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task,” the apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:1 (NRSV). Indeed, bishops have a very special role in our church. What exactly does a bishop do? 

As the spiritual leaders of our church, bishops play an important role in helping to set  the direction of the church. 

Paul’s letter to Titus gives the first answer. Paul calls a bishop “God’s steward” (1:7). That stewardship, according to The Book of Discipline, gives our bishops the responsibility to oversee both “the spiritual and temporal interests” of the church. 

This means our bishops ensure that the denomination carries out the legislation of General Conference and meets its programs, rules and regulations. Most important, our bishops enable the gathered church to worship and evangelize and to live in faithful discipleship. 

As the spiritual leaders of our church, bishops play an important role in helping to set the direction of the church. They are responsible 

for exercising “oversight and support of the church in its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” as well as upholding the church’s theological traditions and teaching how to make disciples and lead faithful and fruitful congregations. 

Bishops also are responsible for making all clergy appointments in the annual conferences they serve and leading in new opportunities for ministry. They have the responsibility for upholding the rules and regulations developed by General Conference. 

As the presiding officers at annual conference sessions, they are responsible for ruling on points of law. 

The Council of Bishops includes all active and retired bishops. The Council gives general oversight to the ministry and mission of the church and spiritual leadership to the entire connection. 

General Conference

Who makes decisions for The United Methodist Church if there is no one person in charge? Good question.

The only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination is the General Conference.

Jurisdictional Conferences

The Constitution grants specific powers and duties to jurisdictional (regional) conferences in the United States. Membership is half clergy, half lay, comprising representatives from the annual conferences and including all General Conference delegates, plus additional jurisdictional delegates. 

The five jurisdictional conferences meet at the same time every four years to elect and assign bishops. They have constitutional responsibility to promote the evangelistic, educational, missionary and benevolent interests of the church and to provide for jurisdictional ministries and institutions. 

Jurisdictional members elect members of the general church boards and agencies. The jurisdictional conference has the power to determine the boundaries of their annual conferences. 

Annual Conferences

The annual conference is the basic body of the church (Constitution paragraph 33). 

The term dates back to the early days of the Methodist movement when founder John Wesley established a conference to instruct and supervise Methodist preachers. We use “annual conference” to reference both the body and the gathering of the body. 

The annual conference approves candidates for ordination and handles all matters concerning clergy. The annual conference equips its local churches for ministry and provides a connection for ministry beyond the local church (paragraph 601). 

The annual conference meets yearly and may be called to special session for specific purposes. The bishop presides over annual conference and sets the time of meeting. 

Membership includes clergy members as specified in The Book of Discipline, and an equal number of laypersons elected by a charge conference, designated as members by The Discipline due to their leadership roles (such as the presidents of the conference United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men). 

We use “annual conference” to reference both the body and the gathering of the body. 

Special provisions ensure membership for youth and young adults. The annual conference has many powers and duties, including the credentialing and admittance of clergy, ratifying constitutional amendments and electing clergy and lay members of General, jurisdictional or central conferences. 

It is responsible for guiding the mission and ministry of the church within its boundaries and structuring and funding ministries and agencies to accomplish its purpose. 

From the United Methodist Handbook