Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q – Do I need to have a license to serve in a Covenant Church?
A – No, some persons serve without a license. However, we encourage the accountability and care of the Board of the Ordered Ministry and the Ministerium that a license brings. For the ministry license, each church must be willing to contribute to the Covenant Pension Plan in order for their pastor/staff person to receive a license. Pension billing is based on 12.5% of the pastor/staff person’s base salary, FICA, housing allowance/parsonage and any other item which counts as compensation.
Q – Is education the only thing that matters?
A – No. What matters is to what end a person is called or in other words, to what form of ministry. Historically, the church has valued an educated clergy and we believe the contemporary church carries that same value today. In the pastoral epistles, one of the distinguishing marks of the overseer or bishop and presbyter, with which bishop is sometimes used interchangeably in the New Testament, is the ability to teach. Academic training is part of the way we fulfill this unique characteristic. This is where the role of education seems to be an appropriate requirement, among others, for this particular office in the church. To “be able to teach” implies educational preparation of some kind, which we offer through seminary training. The third chapter of First Timothy lists other characteristics of spiritual maturity for this role. Also, the fifth chapter includes preaching and teaching as responsibilities for the elder which requires a discerning mind as well as a discerning heart in order to be done responsibly.
Q – What does “in an accountable relationship with” mean, as stated within the description of ordained to word and service, commissioning, and licensure?
A – Accountability is not clearly outlined in the rules because it depends on the particular relationship. The pastor ordained to word and sacrament who leads a staff team will have a different relationship with those on his or her staff than the superintendent has with a solo pastor who needs that accountability relationship. There is an expected connection but the descriptive details of it will differ in each situation. It will be up to those in the accountable relationship to set its parameters.
Q – Why has commissioning remained as a permanent credential?
A – Since 1969 when commissioning was first approved by the Covenant Ministerium and the Covenant Annual Meeting, candidates with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree were accepted. This allows continued recognition of individuals called to minister with a bachelor’s degree in an area of specialty. Many individuals are in the commissioning process currently who would not qualify for ordination to word and service.
Q – What is the difference between an interim license and a first-time license?
A – An interim license is any license granted between denominational annual meetings. All applicants need to be interviewed by the conference committee on ministerial standing in order to receive an interim license. A first-time license is one that has been approved by both the conference and denominational annual meetings, and is always granted on July 1 (after the Covenant Annual Meeting).
Q – Will any license give me the legal right to marry a couple?
A – Not necessarily. Each state is different as to what is required and if it is necessary to register. Check with your local city/county clerk’s office and also check with a local minister if you plan to marry someone in another state.
Q – Can a housing allowance be used as an incentive to a salary package?
A – No. You either qualify or you do not. In the recent ruling, the housing allowance cannot exceed the fair rental value of the house and all expenses must be proven.
Q – Can a person’s housing allowance be retroactive to January if the license is received in April, for example (or any other month)?
A – No, a person cannot claim any housing expenses paid out in January through March if nothing has been recorded in the church minutes. However, it is possible to “load up” the housing allowance from April to December, adding more to that time period if there are additional expenses that might take place during those months. It is possible to claim for work done January through March if the bill is not paid until after April 1.
Q – What are the guidelines for claiming a housing allowance?
A – The estimated amount for the housing allowance must be recorded in the official minutes of the church board prior to the start of the period. This amount must be recorded annually by the church board. A person may spend under the estimated amount, but may not claim any amount over the estimated amount. Specifics with regard to what can be claimed can be found in Teitell’s Minister’s Guide for Income Tax, which is available for free at the Department of the Ordered Ministry office at every Midwinter Conference.
Q – Who qualifies for a housing allowance?
A – Our interpretation of the qualifications of a minister for federal tax purposes is taken from Richard R. Hammar’s Church & Clergy Tax Guide. It states that a minister is one who:
- Administers sacraments;
- Conducts religious worship;
- Has management responsibility in a local church or religious denomination (control, conduct, or maintenance of a religious organization);
- Is ordained, commissioned, or licensed; and
- Is considered to be a religious leader by his or her church or denomination.
A person must be performing a minimum of three of the above requirements to qualify. Also, the local church or institution has to be willing to designate the pastor’s housing allowance in the minutes of the church board meeting prior to the beginning of the year. If this is not done annually, the housing allowance is not justifiably claimed. The credentialing process begins with an endorsement from the church and the regional conference. Each of those bodies assists in determining whether a ministerial license is appropriate. The granting of the license does not qualify one for a housing allowance. It is up to the holder of the license to prove he or she qualifies by being involved in the ministerial acts of the church as outlined above and in Section 9.1 of the proposed rules. Credentialing by the denomination does not automatically qualify one for the housing allowance. No one can guarantee or promise the housing allowance. If ever audited, the pastor would have to demonstrate to the IRS (if in the United States), that the qualifications are met.
Insurance and Pension
Q – Is the Covenant health insurance plan required?
A – No, but the benefit of participating in the plan is that it can move with you if you change positions within the Covenant. This portability is good if you have or end up with what other policies would consider pre-existing conditions. The Covenant cares for its pastors through its own health insurance plan that provides care for all physical conditions. Some members who have experienced major hospitalization are grateful for the care and coverage they received.
Q – Can a non-licensed pastor or staff minister participate in the Covenant Pension Plan?
A – Yes, as a “voluntary participant” if the church is willing to pay 12.5% of the total compensation into the plan and he or she is an associate member of the Covenant Ministerium in good standing. There is additional paperwork to be turned in before this process can begin. For further information please contact the Business Office.
Q – Do I participate in the Covenant Pension Plan if I am working less than thirty hours a week?
A – While not required, we would highly recommend participation if under thirty hours. Currently a person must earn a minimum of $9,000 to be eligible to participate in the pension plan.
Q – How do I enroll in the Covenant Pension Plan?
A – Pension information and forms are sent to an individual (not the church) along with their first-time or interim license packet. Forms are also available online. It is the responsibility of the license holder to complete the update form and have the church treasurer complete and sign the salary survey. Paperwork should be returned to the Department of the Ordered Ministry. The church will receive a quarterly bill.
Q – Who participates in the Covenant Pension Plan?
A – All full-time (paid for thirty hours or more per week) ordained, commissioned, and licensed ministers serving a Covenant church or institution must enroll in the Covenant Pension Plan. Anyone who has a license for theological students or a bi-vocational ministry license is exempt.
Eligibility and Requirements
Q – What about immigrant and indigenous pastors who do not qualify for credentialing with the required standards?
A – The Board of the Ordered Ministry always has the right to make decisions by the rule of exception (Article XII). The rules attempt to state what is normative and do not claim to respond to all the particular circumstances of candidates. A task force has been set up to determine how to address the issues faced by immigrant and indigenous pastors with the possibility of creating an appropriate credentialing track.
Q – Who qualifies for which license?
A – If a person is working toward a permanent credential (ordination or commissioning), he or she would apply for the ministry license. It is also the appropriate license for all individuals serving as solo pastors who do not qualify for a permanent credential. It may be renewed indefinitely, but the license holder must meet certain academic requirements within eight years of initially receiving the license. If a person is enrolled full-time in seminary and he or she is also serving in a church as part of the degree program, a license for theological students is appropriate. Those who voluntarily serve on a church staff and are not paid, or those who are paid but whose primary source of income is outside the church may apply for a bi-vocational ministry license. Those who are called to be short-term or project missionaries apply for the world mission license.
Q – Can a person apply for a license if he or she is working for a parachurch organization?
A – A license is always given for service to the church (the body) and not to the individual. If the applicant is serving under the auspices of a Covenant church and is “sent out” by it, the person may qualify. The applicant will need to request permission to hold a Covenant credential while serving in a non-Covenant setting. The Board of the Ordered Ministry has developed a form for this purpose.
Q – Why is a statement of faith paper required with each license application?
A – The paper allows the applicant to demonstrate theological competency and understanding of the Evangelical Covenant Church. This provides a basis for the interview with the conference committee on ministerial standing. It gives each party the opportunity to become acquainted.
Q – What are the steps to go from inactive/leave of absence to active status?
A – If you have been inactive longer than one year it will require an interview with your conference committee on ministerial standing. Upon approval by the committee, your standing may return to active.
Q – If I am a seminary student, where will I get my license application renewal?
A – A student attending North Park Theological Seminary should contact the seminary’s Department of Field Education. Others attending seminaries elsewhere should contact their conference office.
Q – If I apply for an interim license, how do I know when I am officially licensed?
A – You are considered licensed when the Department of the Ordered Ministry receives all of the following items: license application with all appropriate signatures, background check and release form, policy on baptism, criminal record screening, Minister’s Profile Form, statement of faith paper, the report on the conference interview, and pension enrollment forms (if applicable). A ministerial license certificate will be mailed shortly thereafter.
Q – Why would I get two identical license applications from the conference office when I ask for one during January through April?
A – If an individual is seeking a license immediately and applies in March, the license would be an interim and would expire on June 30 of that year. All licenses expire on June 30 of any given year. The second license application would be for a license valid from July 1 to June 30 of the next year. Typically, the conference office would send one at a time but renewal applications are sent out to all license holders in spring so these two events may coincide.
Orientation to the ECC
Q – What is orientation to the ECC?
A – Orientation seeks to assist pastors new to the denomination in becoming more fully connected to the Covenant. The orientation programs explore the life and mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church, help pastors to establish collegial relationships, and offer education in Covenant heritage and distinctives.
Q – Why does the Covenant require orientation?
A – As a non-creedal denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church highly prizes our characteristic interconnectedness stemming from shared life in Christ. While emphasizing theological freedom, the Covenant has placed a high priority on developing these relationships within the context of theological education and exploration of the Covenant characteristics. In short, orientation introduces the Covenant to pastors, and pastors to the Covenant. Note that pastors may hold a ministerial license while completing a Covenant orientation program.
Q – Who needs orientation to the ECC?
A – All pastors seeking ordination, commissioning, transfer of ordination, ministry license, or world mission license, who have not had the opportunity to attend North Park Theological Seminary, are required to enroll in a Covenant orientation program.
Q – What are my orientation options?
A – The Board of the Ordered Ministry, which has general oversight of ministerial credentialing, has approved the following options for orientation. The Covenant offers orientation options to meet pastors in all stages of their career. The options are:
- Residential Orientation at North Park Theological Seminary | The first choice to complete orientation is to complete a year of residential studies at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Residential orientation offers many advantages. Continual contact with scholars and denominational leaders at the seminary, close proximity to denominational offices, availability of financial aid, and a wide range of courses of study make this the best choice for those who are between ministries or those who have not yet completed their seminary work.
- SemConnect Orientation at North Park Theological Seminary | Another orientation choice is SemConnect. This is a good choice for pastors who have not completed a graduate degree. Through a combination of online and onsite intensive courses, pastors can complete any of North Park Theological Seminary’s degrees and fulfill the orientation requirement of the Board of the Ordered Ministry.
- Covenant Orientation | Covenant Orientation is designed to meet the needs of those who will not attend the year-long residential orientation program at North Park Theological Seminary. This two to six year program includes orientation courses held at denominational and regional gatherings, required participation in various Covenant events, and an intentional advising relationship. This program is the best choice for pastors who need to be oriented while continuing their normal ministry. Click here to learn more about Covenant Orientation.
- Special Orientation Programs | The Evangelical Covenant Church offers additional orientation programs for those in special circumstances. Pastors who prefer course work in Spanish or whose ministry is in an Hispanic context, may enroll in Covenant orientation through the Center for Hispanic Theological Studies (CHET). The Department of World Mission has its own Covenant missions orientation program. For more information, please contact the Department of World Mission.