(Welcome to Credo Friday where I continue to build up posts that offer an explanation for the things I do because they spring out of the things that I have come to believe. Today’s post comes out of a PMT post from earlier this week that you can read HERE.)
On Pastoral Ministry Tuesday this week, I wrote about the many motivations for people to go into pastoral ministry. Some healthy and some unhealthy. Previously, on another PMT, I wrote about ordination as I reflected on a friend’s ordination service in Vancouver. For my Credo post this week (that’s what this is) I’d like to expand on what I’ve written in both posts regarding the purpose of and the process of ordination for pastoral ministry.
In the New Testament, we read about a cultural practice of the early church – a signifier – a rite – that was performed when people were being set apart for a specific mission, duty or calling. Since this is a blog post and not an academic paper, I’ll let you Google all the references and just assume you’ve read the Bible enough to be familiar with the idea.
Here’s one reference to serve as an anchor for the idea that laying on of hands was an action that was full of meaning, was practiced by the elders of the church and was often invoked in a commissioning moment.
“Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you.” (1 Ti 4)
Some see this as the moment in which authority is conveyed upon an individual by God through the hands of the elders to shepherd the flock of God. Authority conferred by virtue of an office and the establishment of an individual as part of an ecclesiastical hierarchy.
I’m not one of those people.
In fact, I think this view has done a tremendous amount of damage within the Church and the world that no amount of good can offset or even make tolerable.
I believe the purpose of ordination is to create an anchor for the soul for the candidate and to fulfill a function of the beloved community. I believe ordination is the culmination of individual and corporate discernment about a candidate’s vocation for pastoral ministry. I believe the purpose of ordination is to create a fixed point in time where the candidate and the beloved community agree that the story God is telling with the candidate’s life is a story of vocation and in particular, the vocation of guiding, guarding, leading and feeding the flock of God of which they are a part.
I believe this is an essential service of the beloved community because every pastor who ought to be a pastor will one day, someday, and maybe often, doubt they were called to do the very thing they’ve given their life to.
Right after someone they’ve poured their life into ODs on heroin and dies after a year of being clean & sober.
Right after they get that helpful note, email, phone call or visit by the well meaning member of the church who tells them all the things they are doing wrong.
Right after their children tell them they don’t want to go to their church.
Right after the church splits.
Right after they turn to their denomination for help and all they hear back is the sound of crickets.
Right after they receive a bill they can’t possibly hope to repay on their salary.
Ordination, like our baptism, serves as a permanent reminder that we’ve become part of a story. And I believe it is essential that the ordination doesn’t just reflect a choice we made for something to do with our lives but it represents the agreement of our community, the beloved community, who witnesses that our lives have been telling this story, they see our vocation, they affirm that it is there and they commit themselves to the well being of the candidate and the fruit of their story.
I believe the purpose of ordination is to help people discover that pastoral ministry is not their vocation. That this is not the story that God is telling with their lives. That the beloved community is not a door to keep people out or let people in but a channel that assists individuals discern what their calling and vocation is if it’s not pastoral ministry.
I believe this is an essential service because pastors who aren’t pastors have hurt so many people. And they have hurt themselves. And they’ve cast doubt on what God is really like. And they’ve obscured the image of God for people genuinely seeking Jesus. This is essential because the Church, the beloved community is not meant to be spectators but partners in ministry – not as people who serve a pastor’s vision but as the beloved community who discern together the gifts and callings among them and support, encourage and get behind those who demonstrate the character and gifting fitting to their vocation to fulfill a common vision.
We, the Church, have allowed a vocation to become a career opportunity.
We’ve confused business practices with kingdom practices. We’ve called entrepreneurs, “planters” and we’ve obscured the story of pastoral ministry and vocational goals with metrics consistent with industry and commerce and the marketplace but that fall far outside of the story that you and I say we follow. This has happened because we’ve forgotten our story or adopted a version of it or we came to believe we are the people whose story is that we have no story. This has led to churches becoming corporations and pastors CEOs and ministry leaders getting employees to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“Hey, Paul, could you get Barnabas to sign this NDA before he takes off with John Mark? We just need to get out ahead of this thing…before he talks to Luke or someone.”
I believe that ordination is one step closer to recovering our purpose as the beloved community.
Not the answer to all of our problems. But I do believe it would help us spot some wolves. It would help us redirect people to their heart’s true vocation. It could help us orient churches and candidates to the real purpose and meaning of pastoral ministry and help establish metrics that sound more like the metaphors of Jesus and Paul and less like the latest and greatest book on management or business.
It should be obvious I’m not talking about the rite of ordination as it is often practiced now. But sometimes still is. This ordination is not a brief service as the result of a successful win at a Bible trivia competition or graduation with a Masters in Theology from the right school or taking over your Daddy’s pulpit. This requires relationship, time, discernment, time, relationship, prayer, hanging out, doing the stuff in front of and with people, transparency and vulnerability, disclosing all your stuff to one and most of your stuff to a trusted few.
Doing life together.
Since this is supposed to be a blog post and not an article or essay, I’ll stop here and call this, part one.
In anticipation of a few responses…
This isn’t practical. No, no it’s not. Welcome to the kingdom of God.
So you could invest yourself in an expensive education and then a group of people you hardly know…Nope. This is a discernment process with people you know well or will come to know very well. People who will be your people for all the rest of your life.
But that’s not practical… (see above).
But what if I KNOW I’m supposed to be in pastoral ministry but I can’t find anyone to share life with who agrees with me after we spent a couple years together? …that’s exactly why this is so important…
I’d love to hear your thoughts, your what-a-bouts and your better ideas. Please comment and help me find a more perfect way.
NEXT WEEK I will go into the PROCESS – or the PRAWCESS — the doing of the thing.