Warning–this post is not about gender! Sorry to disappoint some of you. This post is about the process or rather the requirements for ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. It is a post that I hope will help us also to explore the question, “What are we ordaining people to?”
Several years ago I wrote a blog post entitled, “The Mess We’ve Made of Ordination.” In that post, I argue that one of the messes surrounding the process of ordination is a lack of consistency in policy across the North American Division in who does and does not get ordained.
I want to affirm the North American Division for attempting to rectify this problem by recently establishing guidelines that they are recommending to all Seventh-day Adventist conferences in North America to consider prior to ordaining any pastor. These guidelines are based upon the seven core qualities discovered in research done by NAD ministerial which they believe are the foundational qualities for an effective pastor. These core qualities are as follows:
Here is the problem though, based on these seven core qualities and the descriptions provided by the North American Division, I am not qualified to be ordained. Why? There are two core qualities for which I do not meet the set standard.
Management and Relationship.
Let me start with the management. In the not too distant past I was at lunch with one of the associate pastors on our church staff. We were meeting to discuss the future and to provide feedback for one another on the growth each of us needed.
As we sat there in a crowded Panera, my colleague said to me, “Chad you are a great leader. And I think you could be even better if you let someone else on the team manage.”
I asked her to expound on her thought,
“Well, you are great at casting a vision and empowering us all to serve in our various roles. You do a good job of getting people on board with a plan and helping people to become inspired and find their gifts. But your managerial skills hold you back because you don’t do well in making sure we complete every task, or that we as a team follow through on all our plans or goals. You try, but because it doesn’t come easy for you, it wears you out, and you have to spend more time doing management, which you don’t do well when you should be doing other things related to leadership. You need to let someone else manage.”
Wow what an insight!
The second core quality that I do not meet the standard is the final quality: relationships. The description of this quality is as follows: “relating well to others regardless of faith, age, ethnicity, personality, or gender.”
I fail in this quality because I do not relate well to individuals regardless of age.
I do not relate well to kids and or youth. Yes I can get by, but the description is “relate well.” I look at those that work with youth and kids and I am amazed. In our church we have a pastor (who works in the Adventist HealthCare system) named Costin and when he talks to the adults they love him, he is a favorite adult Sabbath School teacher, but he is also a favorite of the children to provide the children’s story. If he is an example of relating well, then I do not measure up. Even my own wife agrees I should leave the work with children and the telling of the children stories in the hands of more capable individuals.
Based upon these two analyses of two of the seven core qualities of an effective pastor and the characteristics upon which are the basis for ordination then, I am a.) not an effective pastor and b.) it was ill-advised to ordain me years ago.
I’d become discouraged by these two revelations, but I’ve read the Bible.
And here is what the Bible teaches. First, the word ordination never actually appears in the Greek or the Hebrew (the two primary languages of the original Biblical text). Second, what we have accepted as the process by which we ordain, the laying on of hands, and the structure of leadership: pastor, elder, deacon while assumed by most to be a straightforward Biblical model is not so straightforward. (For more on this topic read the excellent paper, “The Problem of Ordination,” by Darius Jankiewicz).
What the Bible does teach is that people were asked to “fill the hand” (Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8 & 9). That is the translation for the Hebrew word in the Old Testament that some have translated ordain. This term seems to reference the handing over of duties within the temple to certain people called by God. I also read about individuals being “consecrated” and “appointed” to the priesthood (Numbers 3:10) but others were also “consecrated” and “appointed” to other tasks in the temple service (Numbers 3:36). The same word “appointed” or “consecrated” but different roles. I read about the laying on of hands over Joshua in Numbers 27 which in the Hebrew is also referred to as a “commissioning.” (Interesting commissioning actually is in the Bible but not ordaining 🙂 ) And in Exodus 31:6 artists were “appointed” to work on the crafting and care of the temple structure; again the same Hebrew word used to “appoint” or “ordain” the priests.
Deacons in the New Testament were “chosen” and “turned over responsibility to them” through the laying on of hands to care for widows and make sure people had food.
Paul and Barnabas were “set apart” to be missionaries to Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas then “appointed” (Acts 14:23) elders not to be missionaries, but to oversee the churches that had been established. And by the way they were not set apart with the laying on of hands, but the Greek word indicates through a show of hands, in other words, “let us vote” if these persons should lead us.
And Paul sent Titus to Crete, not to establish a church or to oversee a church, but to straighten out a church (Titus 1:5).
The point I am trying to make is that we use many examples in the Bible to support the idea of ordination but each of these examples illustrates a significant point: the ordination of an individual is not limited to specific roles or functions.
So if we as a church are going to say these seven qualities constitute the picture of a qualified ordinand, we must be ready to say, first, most of our pastors that are ordained do not currently qualify and second if we apply these seven core qualities then we are creating a box around the function and expectations of calling to the work of ministry that the Bible never stipulates.
I’ve already illustrated how I don’t fit the model, but let me give another example: one of the pastors on staff at the Spencerville Church, where I also serve, is currently not ordained. He is not ordained for what I would ascertain two primary reasons: first, and foremost he does not possess a theological degree. Second, he does not preach, though some in the conference office has pushed for him to preach on multiple occasions. Under the structure of the core qualities of a pastor his lack of preaching would disqualify him from meeting the core quality of worship: “facilitating an enriching corporate worship experience that brings people into the presence of God.” Now, I would put forth that he does help facilitate this by establishing our online church community which has 100’s of participants each week and even more during the time of COVID-19. But even if he had no role in the actual worship service, would this mean he is less called, less appointed, less qualified to be ordained than I am? Was God wrong in designating the title of consecrated and appointed equally to the priests, the guards of the temple, and the artists of the temple?
Would not our current structure and the structure recommended and endorsed by many conferences stipulate that only the priests in the above set would qualify for the standard of “consecrated” “appointed” or to use our vernacular “ordained.”
I applaud the church for trying to build clarity and consistency around ordination, it is what I was asking for years ago when I wrote the blog post I referenced above.
But years later I realize even when trying to build clarity and consistency we fall short because we are trying to prop up a model, a concept that is not Biblically supported at least not in the way we have framed it.
How would I fix things?
The church could acknowledge what we are doing in regards to the establishment of what we call ordination is not really Biblical, and state directly and honestly, “since we struggle with nuance in the church, we are going to establish a basic one size should fit all model.” If they did this I would probably complain less; I believe every business has a right to say, “this is what we expect of our employees.”
Or a second option, we could go back to the model of Acts 14:3: χειροτονέω.
χειροτονέω: stretch out the hand, for the purpose of giving one’s vote in the assembly. (Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 1986.)
χειροτονέω might be a little dangerous for some because it puts power into the hands of the local church people guided by a few leaders.
In the example of lacking the qualifications for ordination I mentioned above, I would guess if we went to the assembly in which this pastor serves and we asked for a show of hands of how many believe he is a pastor called by God and faithfully serving as he has been called in the area he has been called, fulfilling the duties he has been called to, that most the hands would go up and he would be χειροτονέω–appointed by vote–or as we like to call it ordained.
Luckily for us, the pastor I am speaking of took a theology class (he’s getting his masters in pastoral ministry) from Dr. Jankiewicz, in which he came away realizing ordination–as we do it is not Biblical–so he is not stressed about when or even if he is ever ordained.
Me, on the other hand, until one of the above two scenarios, takes place or maybe a better idea comes along, I think I will continue to poke at this bear.