A Tale of Two Ordinations
About an hour before the scheduled ordination service, a 21-year-old sat in an awkwardly quiet room surrounded by a few other men, some of whom he barely knew. Over the next 45 minutes, this group would decide whether or not the congregation would ordain him at 6:00 that evening.
And you could describe the drama as palpable. Similar to cutting the cake at the gender–reveal, the off–balance three–pointer at the buzzer, or the melodramatic series finale, hordes awaited the verdict when these guys spilled out of that cramped room behind the sanctuary. Would there be white smoke or black?
To heighten the tension, only 15 minutes separated the amen of the ordination council and the welcome of the ordination service. What would happen if the candidate failed the examination? What if he hesitated momentarily on two of the church–league softball questions?
Was there a plan B? The bulletins—downloaded clip art aplenty––were printed and stacked on the foyer table. The header said Ordination Service and the footer listed the guest speaker. If they didn’t ordain the candidate that night, would Pastor Johnny have to wing it like he did that time back in February? Further, what about all the family the candidate invited from out of town? Frank the Deacon would be tasked to tell Aunt Sue that Joseph is currently boohooing in the secretary’s office. The leadership would then need to scramble for a talking point. Something like, “There will be no ordination service tonight. But if you’d like to hear our pastor throw together a sermon, stick around.”
To further complicate matters, this church just hired Joseph to be their Worship Pastor a couple months prior. Could he still be their pastor if he didn’t pass the council? Was his job on the line? The buzzards circled.
To back up, a month or so earlier––within weeks of being hired––Joseph’s Senior Pastor (also: boss) told him it’d be good if he got ordained. Joseph’s response, “I don’t think I’m ready.” His pastor’s, “You’ll never feel ready.”
Joseph was 21. He’d received no training, formal or otherwise. He’d never served as a pastor before. However, he could play many of the hymns in multiple keys, so surely it’d be advantageous to set aside a sparsely attended Sunday night to endow some credibility.
So, the ordination process began. A short month later, the final step (only step?) was this ordination council. And as you might’ve guessed, truth be told: there was no drama that Sunday evening. Were Joseph to fail the council’s examination, he’d be the first to do so in the history of this congregation. You might Google formality; the whole process was such.
If some young man wanted to be a pastor––because God told him so––who is the church to tell him that he wasn’t ready? Or worse, that he didn’t meet the qualifications?
Another young man––in a different city––sensed the same internal call from the Lord. It so happened that the church he belonged to had something of a process in place. He would serve as an intern for a few years, teaching here and there, while regularly cleaning up the mess of fellowship meals and toddlers in the nursery. Most importantly, he would live life with others in the congregation.
One of the church’s elders would be assigned the task of mentoring him. The other elders, seeing leadership development as intrinsic to their role, would evaluate the young man’s character and gifting for ministry. In listening to his teaching, they would help him sharpen his theological conclusions, or the communication of them. In watching his life, they would help him sharpen his relational conclusions, or lack thereof.
And maybe one day the congregation he belonged to would nominate him to be an elder. Then the ordination process––begun informally long before––would become more formal. Since multiple men and women had regularly observed the character and giftings of this young man, the ordination council would be acquainted with his weaknesses. Without malice, they could ask him how he intended to address those shortcomings in the years ahead. Conversely, they would also be well aware of his strengths, affirming them appropriately while warning the candidate concerning the dangers of pride in his gifts.
This meeting of men––while too maybe conducted in a cramped room behind the sanctuary––would be far from a formality. It would be full of significance. And it certainly would not be scheduled an hour before the ordination service.
In the end, of course, both men were ordained. Yet only one of these churches took seriously their responsibility to protect the larger Church from unqualified pastors.