3 Ways to Look at Ordination
What does it mean to be ordained? It seems to mean different things in different churches and denominations. A colleague at another church recently asked me about it. He’s sensed a call to ministry and presented himself for ordination. However, due to his specific role, his “qualification” became a matter of deliberation among his church leaders. I shared with him my thoughts:
We Baptists, and I think most Evangelicals, look at ordination a bit differently than most mainline denominations. There’s less emphasis on the individual’s formal education than there is on his calling. The large number of bi-vocational pastors among our ranks is evidence of this.
As an ordained minister in a non-traditional role in mega-church life, I’ve often considered this same scenario. I surrendered my life to vocational ministry as a sophomore in college, but I knew I was not called to a preaching ministry. I pursued secular undergraduate and post-graduate education in my field of passion and interest: communication. So I had to assess whether my call to serve the church in this capacity called for or justified ordination.
The second church I served following college graduation recognized my call and affirmed it with ordination; but that was not for some 7 or 8 years after my surrender to ministry as a college student. In hindsight, I think given my unique role in ministry, it took establishing (interpret: proving) myself and my commitment to ministry before this calling was fully recognized. I did not begrudge that delay at all. I think I needed those years of affirmation as well to solidify my own confidence in my calling.
When considering ordination, I think we must start with the qualifications for “overseer,” or pastor/elder as defined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Most are pretty straightforward. Of all the standards listed there, perhaps the one to be considered most intently in this context is found in verse 2: “able to teach.” I’ve often questioned whether this qualification means that all ordained pastors should be in a teaching role.
But the text says simply “able to teach;” we don’t have enough direction in Scripture to determine if that means they must teach as part of their primary role or even on a regular basis. Certainly they must know the Word and be able to defend it (Titus 1:9). Of course, teaching takes place in many different ways in the church, not just from the pulpit. Not to mention that there are lay people who teach and are not called to vocational ministry; so it’s safe to say this is not an exclusive qualification.
And if teaching is a necessary component, the church has gotten it wrong for centuries because there have long been ordained individuals in church leadership and ministry whose role is not as the primary teacher/preacher of a local congregation.
Without more definitive direction in Scripture, I think we can infer at least three factors that must be taken into account when ordination is being considered:
1. The Individual’s Personal Sense of Calling
Without this, there should be no ordination. This might sound like a given, but I’m aware of at least one situation when a church said to one of its staff members, “we need to ordain you so that you can more effectively do this job.” To my knowledge, that person had no previous sense of calling to be ordained as a minister.
2. The church’s affirmation of that call.
Since people cannot legitimately ordain themselves, the body of Christ is responsible for blessing or affirming the calling. That’s clear in every instance in Acts when Paul worked with the churches to set aside their leaders. Many have unfortunately submitted themselves for ordination with impure motives or inadequate character or qualifications. Yes, I’m sure there have been more than a few who have wanted to be ordained for the tax benefit. Bottom line, the church must assess and agree with the calling.
3. The role they will serve in the church.
As I’ve already established, I think this factor is less relevant than the other two; but there must be some aspect of leadership of people in the mix. Just working on the church staff, even for an entire career span, is not enough. Without the role being considered, we might be ordaining custodians and pianists.
I suggested to my friend that these three factors will be weighted differently depending on the individual, the circumstances, and the church’s established culture or protocols for ordination. But each one should be carefully considered by all involved.
No matter the circumstances, ordination should be approached prayerfully and sincerely. I hope these thoughts have helped if you find yourself called to ministry but facing some doubts due to the gifts or role in which you feel called to serve.