Similar to the U.S. Constitution’s three branches of government, United Methodists also have a congressional branch (General Conference), a judicial branch (Judicial Council) and an executive branch (Council of Bishops).
The General Conference, the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church, is the only body that speaks officially for the church. Meeting once every four years to determine legislation affecting connectional matters, it is composed of no fewer than 600 and no more than 1,000 delegates.
Working within the boundaries of the Church Constitution and General Rules, the General Conference defines and fixes the conditions, privileges and duties of church membership; the powers and duties of elders, deacons, diaconal ministers and local pastors; and the powers and duties of annual conferences, missionary conferences, charge conferences and congregational meetings. It authorizes the organization, promotion and administrative work of the church. The General Conference also defines the powers and duties of the episcopacy, authorizes the official hymnal and book of worship, provides a judicial system and procedures, initiates and directs all connectional enterprises of the church and enacts other legislation for the operation of the church. Learn more.
As the denomination’s “Supreme Court,” the Judicial Council interprets church law and determines constitutionality of proceedings at all levels of church life. Its nine members, made up of laity and clergy, are elected by the General Conference and normally meet twice a year to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline. Their cases are generally referred to them by action of the Council of Bishops, the annual conferences or the General Conference. According to the Constitution, decisions of the Judicial Council are final (Paragraph 57, Article III). Learn more.
Council of Bishops
While the denomination has no single general officer or executive, The Council of Bishops acts as the executive branch of the church. Composed of all active and retired bishops, the council meets as a group at least once a year. According to the Book of Discipline “bishops are called to lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of The United Methodist Church which confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and particularly to lead the Church in its mission of witness and service in the world” (Paragraph 414). Learn more.
The Connectional Table
The Connectional Table discerns and articulates the vision and the stewardship of the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church as determined by General Conference and in consultation with the Council of Bishops. Created by the 2004 General Conference, the Connectional Table strives to represent all voices in the church: clergy and lay members elected from jurisdictional and central conferences, general agency executives, racial and ethnic caucuses, and young people. Learn more.