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.