Over the past year, I have been a pastoral intern at my church. It has been my privilege to preach and serve Christ’s church through ministering His Word to brothers and sisters in Christ as well as to lost souls outside of Christ. At the same time, I have been mentored in pastoral ministry in hope that the Lord will call me to serve His church as a shepherd of His flock.
Once my elders recognized me as a pastoral candidate, they asked other pastors from our association to join with them in examining me through an ordination council. So we met together for a few hours with me in the “hot seat.” The meeting was divided into two halves, after Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 4:16 to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” The first half focused on my life, including my conversion, my spiritual maturity, my marriage, my family, and my character. After a brief break, we returned for the second half, where I was asked questions about doctrine. During this time, they assessed my knowledge of Scripture, theology, church history, and practical ministry.
Was my ordination counsel intimidating and grueling? Sure! But I also came away from our gathering richly blessed. And while the specific ways that ordination councils are carried out may vary, if they are done well I see a number of benefits for churches and for those who go through the process. Let me mention a few:
Uphold the Sanctity of the Office
The office of pastor has been given by Christ to His church, and He is the One who provides men to fill this office. So I am not free to take upon myself this leadership ministry; God only calls those who are qualified to serve in this holy office (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-5). My calling as pastor must be confirmed by the local church, which recognizes that God has set me apart for this office. Therefore, having wise and godly church leaders affirm a pastor’s calling is important to ensure only those called by God serve in this office.
Furthermore, those who are called must also be adequately equipped to properly minister God’s Word. Will you rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)? Will you hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that you may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9)? An ordination council has the experience and expertise to examine you as you are being considered for pastoral ministry. It serves as a first line of defense against those who may not be called or equipped, so that they will not become unqualified leaders of the body of Christ.
Restrain Your Desires for Ministry
This blessing is really the opposite side of the previous one. Because our natural tendency is to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, we may think that we should become a pastor when we are not yet ready or called. Additionally, our motives in seeking the pastorate may be carnal and sinful.
The truth is that someone may know the Bible well, he may be very studied in various theological disciplines, and he may even be an engaging and persuasive teacher and preacher. But this does not mean that God has called him to be a pastor. When those who are called as pastors evaluate a man in an ordination council, they provide a check to his desires and ambitions. While desire and ambition are not bad, seeking to use your gifts and skills without the laying on of hands by your elders is dangerous to the church and to your own soul.
Learn How You Should Grow
I wish I could say that I received a perfect score at the end of my ordination council. But I am still a sinner, and there were some areas where the elders suggested that I seek to grow in grace. Rather than seeing these criticisms as negative disapproval, I found them to be kind blessings. I knew that those who had gathered together loved me and loved Christ’s church. So they were helping me to recognize blind spots and areas to pursue holiness and better fidelity.
None of the concerns voiced were disqualifying, but they were reminders that pastoral ministry is not carried out in my strength, expertise, or wisdom. It is only as I draw close to Christ and receive His strength through the Holy Spirit that I will be able to faithfully serve Him and the church entrusted to my care. And my ordination council directed me to Christ and His all-sufficient grace as I minister to His people. What a blessing!
Receive Encouragement of Your Calling
Finally, an ordination council will encourage you in your walk with the Lord and in your service to His church. They may recommend that your elders nominate you as a pastor, they may suggest that you first grow in some areas of your life and doctrine before becoming a pastor, or they may challenge you to reconsider pastoral ministry. But whatever the conclusion may be, they have your best interest at heart. So you should receive their counsel for what it is—encouragement to serve the Lord in whatever ways He has called you to live in this world for His glory.
In God’s kindness and love, the pastors in my ordination council recommended that my elders nominate me to become a pastor together with them. At the same time, I am thankful to have gone through the process whatever decision the council would have reached. After all, my goal was not to have my desire to pastor rubber-stamped by others, it was (and still is!) to glorify Christ through my life. And I will always remember my ordination council as an important step in moving forward to serve my Savior.