Thursday, June 30, 2016

Called, Competent and Committed (part 3)

I have been considering ordination, and what makes one qualified to receive that charge.  In the first post I shared about the essential need for a person to be called.  In part two, I offered thoughts on a person being competent.  In this third post I will discuss the importance for a person to be committed to the work of the ministry, and the process of training.

Leading a congregation is hard and the statistics on pastoral burnout are well known, but I am not talking here about pastors who receive a salary for their ministry service.  What I am sharing about are, for lack of a better term, ‘lay leaders’; elders, deacons, teachers, etc, who serve the local congregation out of simple love and devotion to that family.  When tough times come, they cannot look at ministry as their ‘job’ as a mental aid to help them stick it out.  They need to decide, is their ministry worth hanging tough or is it easier to just walk away?   
When considering ordination, it is important to determine whether that person demonstrated a desire and ability to persevere through tough times.  This is difficult to do when ordination is reserved for those who have spent most of their training period in traditional institutions and have not been exposed to the challenges of ministry.  They can be told all day how difficult it is but until it is experienced they will not know. 

So we send our young men and women to Bible school or seminary, cutting them off in large part from the daily life of the local church.  Then after two or four years, we gather an ‘ordination council’, ask the candidate a load of theological and hypothetical questions, lay hands on them if they got the answers right, and set them to the work of the ministry. 

The New Testament points to a different way.

In writing of deacons, Paul gives the following instruction: “…let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” (1 Timothy 3:10)  What would be the components of this ‘test’?  The context shows us that the test is comprised of observable life patterns as well as faithfulness to doctrine (verses 8-9, 11-12). 

But we do not usually find that deacons are ordained.  It is my contention that those who “serve well as deacons” (1 Timothy 3:13) are in fact training for the potential call to eldership (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7), the ‘office’ on which ordination is conferred.  Has the one serving as a deacon demonstrated a commitment to ministry and to the process of training and testing?  Have they chaffed under spiritual authority, or shown themselves teachable and willing to grow and learn?  Have they persevered with observable Christian character under times of trial and difficulty, or have they been prone to either give up, find an easier way or responded in unhealthy ways?  Have they devoted themselves to the growth of their life and ministry, understanding the importance of the call (see 1 Timothy 4:15-16), or emphasized themselves above the ministry?

These things are observable and quantifiable.  This pattern takes a commitment on the part of the ‘candidate’ to be open and transparent.  A commitment to allow others access to their lives; to submit to spiritual authority; to be confronted with areas of weakness and sin and to act t change and grow.
If a person cannot, does not, or is not willing to, commit to the process and the ministry, it would be obvious that they are not qualified for ordination, even if they have that special piece of paper from the seminary.

In the final post I will take on some other questions such as process and procedure and the question of who is qualified to issue the ‘rite’ of ordination.

*Scripture taken from the English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Called, Competent and Committed (part 2)

In the first post I considered the importance of a calling in terms of determining ordaining a person for ministry.  The next issue to consider in terms of ordination is whether that person is competent.

Competent is defined as having the skill or ability to do something well.  A competent mechanic can correctly fix my car.  A competent musician can play pleasing and recognizable music on their instrument.

To a great degree, our education model is focused on imparting information and ‘teaching to the test’.  If a student can reproduce the information on an exam they pass.  But have they truly understood?  Can they retain that knowledge and make it work for them in practical situations?  Are they competent?  

This has found its way into ministry education.  Let’s face it, there are plenty of ministers who are ‘book smart’, meaning they got good grades by passing exams.  When it comes to life and ministry skill, however, they are lacking because they were not evaluated in a ‘real world’ setting on their ability to use the information correctly or effectively.  I believe education is important and I highly value my own seminary experience; yet I must wonder how well the current system does at determining competency.  To remediate this, many Bible colleges and seminaries now include some form of on-site practicum.
Even so, as mentioned in the first post, it is still often the framed paper on the wall, reflecting a particular level of education, rather than the quality of training which carries weight.  Why do we consider someone who completed a four-year post graduate program at a prominent institution more qualified for ordination than someone who has invested the same time being mentored and learning one-to-one in a local church setting?  Some aspects of ministry certainly benefit from a traditional educational setting (studying the original Biblical languages with skilled linguists comes to mind), but much can and should be learned within the local church.

Let’s go back to the passage in Mark 3:13-15: “And [Jesus] went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”

The original disciples were ‘ordained’ by Jesus for the work of the Gospel ministry (see also John 15:16), but the condition by which they were set apart for this work had nothing to do with traditional ideas of education.  In fact when the Jewish authorities encountered the disciples “and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” (Acts 4:13)  In this sense ‘uneducated’ means that they had no formal training in the schools of the scribes or rabbis.  Yet they possessed an amazing ability, a competency, which amazed the authorities.  Where did this come from?  The Jewish leaders “recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Jesus called those He wanted “that they might be with Him”.  This was the training program for the disciples.  It wasn’t about being sent away to schools or seminaries; it was about real world training in the presence of a master, the Master.  It was about mentoring and practical teaching.  It was learning how to understand and handle the Word of God in everyday situations.  It was about being given opportunity to go out (see Luke 9:1-2; 10:1).  It was about being allowed to ‘fail’ (Matthew 17:19-20).  They disciples became competent through experience, not education.

An exam does not reveal if a man is fit to be a deacon or elder.  A grade for a one semester course cannot measure if one is truly “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).  Academic institutions are not places where character is formed or nurtured.

I am convinced that competency is best formed, observed and evaluated in a local church community.  Training for ministry at the local level more readily fits the Biblical model and could be more effective in preparing people for ordination than sending them away for education.   

In the next post I will discuss commitment.

*Scripture taken from the English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Called, Competent and Committed (part 1)

During a recent conversation with a friend, our discussion turned to the matter of ordination for ministry.  Like many issues in the Church we make assumptions which are not always rooted in Scripture.  I would challenge some of those traditional assumptions surrounding the issue of ordination.

At its most basic, ‘ordain’ means “to officially appoint or invest with authority”.  Where does this appointment come from?  On what criteria is the decision to ordain based?  Over the next several posts I am going to offer three benchmarks by which a person should be evaluated as to their fitness for ordination and greater ministry service, and then conclude with some thoughts on the process of ordination itself.

What do people usually consider as the most important component for someone to be ‘qualified’ for ordination?  If we are honest, the larger percent would suggest training, by which they mean education, by which they mean a degree from a Bible College or Seminary.  Ask yourself, especially if you have ever been involved with a pastoral search committee, if the possession of formal education didn’t play a large role in the selection process.  I’m not saying a quality ministry education isn’t important; I’m simply asking if it should be given the weight usually affixed to it, and if those above mentioned institutions are the best avenues for ministry training.

When considering someone for ordination, the first aspect to take account of is whether that person is called.

We read in Mark 3:13-15, “And [Jesus] went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”* We note that it was Jesus Who specifically called and appointed the ones He wanted. 

Paul had a thriving teaching ministry in Antioch when one day the Holy Spirit spoke and said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)  Paul later acknowledges this call of God in Galatians 1:15, “…he who had set me apart before I was born…called me by his grace…”  Paul did not undertake his missionary/church planting ministry under his own impulse.  He was specifically called out by the Spirit.

The question certainly must be raised as to how one may recognize the call either for themselves or for another.  In this regard the importance of spiritual disciplines, particularly prayer, fasting and worship, cannot be overemphasized.
In Luke’s account of the calling of the disciples he records that Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12) Jesus invested time in serious prayer and the following morning He selected the Twelve.  In the case of Paul and Barnabas, the calling came while the leadership team was engaged in the spiritual disciplines of worship and fasting.  These men had put themselves in a position to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them.  When Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for the local churches they did so after a time of prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23).  The Lord reveals and confirms the calling when people put themselves in position to hear Him.

Another means of recognizing the calling is through the affirmation of the church body.  When the need of the local church grew, the Apostles instructed the congregation to choose ministers “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) who could be appointed to the work.  The seven men chosen were recognized as spiritually mature and fit to serve.  This is where real relationships in the Church serve a vital role.  Where there is discipleship and mentoring, those who exhibit a gift and desire for ministry may be more readily identified, prayed over and supported in their training.  I am convinced that the best leaders for a local church are those who are already present in the church.

In the next post I will address the second benchmark- competency.

*Scripture taken from the English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.