GBHEM to offer online course for local pastors

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) is preparing to launch a new curriculum for local pastors that will focus on transformative leadership, with online interactive classes intended to provide easier access for educational opportunities, especially for part-time local pastors who have regular employment outside the church.

“The new curriculum puts the emphasis in terms of leadership for the church, not simply job functions,” said Rev. Rena Yocom, GBHEM assistant general secretary for Clergy Formation and Theological Education. “What does it mean to be a leader who cares about creating community and transforming society so that it looks more akin to the reign of God?”

Computer screen showing welcome message
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) will launch a new interactive online learning program called "Course of Study." Photo from GBHEM.

The new curriculum for "Course of Study" -- the training and education program for local pastors who serve a specific appointment but do not itinerate -- will be in use beginning this fall, while the new interactive online curriculum will be available beginning in January.

The new curriculum has an integrated approach. It addresses foundational understandings of the Bible, theology, church history, Wesleyan identity and application of scripture. The other half is more like on-the-job training, which builds skills in preaching, worship, mission and evangelism. The integration will help pastors understand that what one believes about the grace of God impacts how a church does mission. And what is believed about the cross, atonement and resurrection will be central to how pastors administer the sacraments or conduct funerals and memorial services.

“The previous curriculum had many good features, but it was 25 years old. It needed updating, and we needed a curriculum that addresses our current context,” Yocom said.

Yocom said while some classes have previously been available online, it was basically a conversion of the correspondence classes used electronically. In the previous format, there were no discussions with the other students and little input from the instructor until the end of the class.

The new online classes will be offered in 10-week terms. GBHEM requires that all courses have 20 hours of class time. In this new format, there will be the equivalent requirement of two hours of class per week but on the student’s time schedule. In addition to weekly input from the instructor, Yocom said, one of the goals of this new format of online classes will be to create interaction among the students enrolled in a particular class.

The hope is that the online curriculum will be more accessible for local pastors who serve a church and also hold a job in another field, Yocom said. The Book of Discipline requires that students in the program take half their classes in a traditional format. The online classes will be offered in a 10-week winter term and a 10-week fall term. They will not be offered in the summer, when students are most likely to participate in a regional school on a seminary campus.

Regional Course of Study schools and extension schools will offer the new curriculum beginning this fall. Full-time local pastors attend the regional schools, while part-time local pastors may take the curriculum at extension schools. The regional schools are typically two- to four-week sessions of classes, while extension schools are on the weekend so that part-time local pastors who work can attend.

Last year, GBHEM sponsored a research project to examine the numbers and trends related to local pastors in conferences. It indicated a rise in the number of part-time local pastors, which indicates a new need in accessibility for their training. A current research project is underway to gather information about what the numbers, costs and trends are in facilitating either the regional and/or extension schools.

“Eight of our United Methodist seminaries are partners in offering Course of Study to train local pastors. The data from these two studies was shared with the GBHEM Board of Directors and will be shared with the Ministry Study Commission,” Yocom said.

To learn more about local pastors and Course of Study, visit or

* Vicki Brown is the former associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. She is now the news editor at United Methodist News Service.

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