In current usage this may refer to (a) Christ's service for the world in its redemption, (b) any service done in his name by the Church corporately or by a church member, (c) a particular form of such service ('the ministry of local preachers', 'healing ministry'), (d) the specific service rendered by those ordained as presbyters or deacons and (e) most often, in its narrowest sense, the service of those ordained as presbyters. What follows deals with that last sense. 'Minister' usually refers to such persons. 'The ministry' means life devoted to such service or the ministers considered as a body (as in 'entering the ministry').
Apart from a small number of Anglican clergy, those who assisted John Wesley were laymen (as the Minutes of Conference of 1779 insisted) and their primary task was to preach and oversee the societies on Wesley's behalf. The chief distinction was between those who were locally based and those who were subject to itinerancy The latter were officially described as 'travelling preachers' well into the twentieth century, although 'pastor' soon came into use. 'Ministry' and 'minister' began to be used in WM as early as 1810, as understanding of the nature of the role broadened, partly as a result of the Plan of Pacification (1795) and the regular use of ordination from 1836. In 1840 the Conference formally abandoned the term 'Preacher' in favour of 'Minister'. There were similar developments in the other Methodist bodies (although some like IM had no paid ministry). In the late twentieth century, influenced by ecumenical discussion and the inauguration of the diaconate, the ancient term 'presbyter' has begun to come back into use. In 2012 the terminology was revised. Presbyter is now the official term for those ordained and received into full connexion for the ministry of the word and sacraments, and minister is used only when both presbyters and deacons are referred to.
Whereas the American church retained John Wesley's threefold ordination of deacon, elder and superintendent (bishop), in Britain, until the recognition of the diaconate as an order of ministry, there was only one order. British Methodism's current understanding is set out in a number of official documents: clause 4 of the Deed of Union, Ordination (1960 and 1974), The Ministry of the People of God (1988), What is a Presbyter? (2002) and Releasing Ministers for Ministry (2002). Methodist ministers are presbyters in God's Church, ordained for life to the ministry of word and sacraments, having a 'principal and directing', but not exclusive, part in preaching and pastoral care. They 'hold no priesthood differing in kind from that which is common to all the Lord's people'.
Ministry was originally seen as full-time commitment to circuit work. Those who were unable to give full-time service were expected to resign or become supernumerary. Eventually, the concept of 'without pastoral charge' was developed, later to become 'without appointment', a category introduced with the admission of women in 1973, extended to include men in 1984 and replacing the President's List in 1993. Towards the end of the nineteenth century ministers were permitted to serve with other Christian organizations, later in other types of appointment, from which sector ministrydeveloped. In 1989, after decades of debate, the category of Ministers in Local Appointment was introduced; these were ordained and stationed, but not subject to itinerancy. All alike are subject to common procedures of candidature, probation, discipline and becoming supernumeraries, and all are shown on the stations. The most recent development (2002) is to emphasise that these are all expressions of a single presbyteral ministry rather than distinct categories. By 2008 new, more flexible patterns of ministry were emerging, including a growth in lay ministry.
In 2013, after some years of uncertainty, the Supreme Court ruled (in The President of the Methodist Conference v. Preston) that a minister being in full connexion with the Methodist Conference does not constitute a contract of employment, confirming an earlier judgement given in 1983 by the Court of Appeal in The President of the Methodist Conference v. Parfitt
Information on the earliest generations of the itinerants is found in the *'''Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers'''Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers and in Charles Atmore's Methodist Memorial (1801), and most recently in John Lenton's John Wesley's Preachers (2009). Details of the circuits in which they were stationed are given in successive editions of 'Hill's Arrangement'.
See also Ministerial training