While some may find this topic confusing, we believe there is a simple answer. A licensed minister is a member of the clergy who is considered to be in “good standing” with a ministry association, licensing agency, religious society, or denomination of churches, etc. The term implies that one of these institutions have granted them a license to practice ministry.
The terms minister license and ministry license are common descriptions of a status where a minister has been given religious permissions to spiritual leadership within the presence of fellow believers. While not totally correct, another term often used to describe this status is a “license to preach”. The source of confusion about these terms exists in the concept of that which a minister has been permissioned to do. For example, many churches may license a deacon for hospital visitations, but they are not necessarily granted opportunities to preach within their assembly because they are considered to be a “lay minister.” In such instances, a person often has been given the title of a deacon (which American culture has come to embrace as permission for religious visitations). Customarily, a church will give a deacon some form of paperwork, or letter of ordination as a means by which to identify him or herself as having been recognized by a religious group as being capable of performing religious rites. Nevertheless, the difference between a deacon and a licensed minister is that the latter may in fact hold all of the permissions, responsibilities, and authority of an ordained minister.
Determining whether a minister needs a license is not very difficult. In fact, here we provide a brief outline of questions to help minsters make this determination.
Does the Minister:
* Plan to visit jails, hospitals, or nursing homes, etc.?
* And/or do they plan to officiate weddings?
If the answer is “yes” to any of the above, it is a good idea that they maintain a minister license of good standing with their organization.
Regarding public service, it is almost certain that any minister entering a county jail will be asked for identification, and proof of certification in ministry. The same is likely of a minister desiring access to an intensive care unit in a hospital, or even a nursing home.
Who can perform weddings? The laws change from State to State. For example, Ohio requires minister registration. There ministers must register with the State office in order to legally perform weddings. They are required to fill out an Ohio minister license application (1), accompanied by original copies of their certificate of ordination and fellowship card (minister license) –signed by a representative of the religious society using their title. They strictly forbid duplicaters of any sort. All credential submissions must be verifiable, original copies. Upon approval, the applicant is placed in their minister search database where they may be verified by the general public. Below is an example of our minister license that demonstrates how we meet the expectations of the State for licensure.
Continued Ohio Minister License
Upon approval by the State of Ohio, the applicant is placed in their minister search database where they may be verified by the general public. You may follow this link to see the Ohio minister database:
To conduct a sample search, leave all fields of the form blank except the last one titled “denomination.” In that box enter: National Association of Christian Ministers and press “run report.” There you will see the listings of all the ministers who are members with us who have been registered in Ohio as ministers.
In light of these things, not all states require registration. In fact, to the best of our knowledge most States do not require registration. However, many do have requirements that they expect to be upheld by the minister's honor system. For example, South Carolina requires that a wedding officiant be a minister of the gospel; authorized to administer oaths by an organization with which they are in good standing. Texas views a licensed minster and an ordained minister as one in the same when under review to perform a marriage ceremony (2). Nevertheless, it should be noted that none of this is legal advice, and it is the responsibility of the minister to determine the law in their area of practice.
The only real difference between these two is an expiration date.
The NACM recognizes the lifelong calling with ordination. We also offer a minister license for the minister who may be serving in situations where they must prove that they are in "good standing". In either case, we view a licensed and an ordained minister as one in the same.