The Mess We’ve Made of Ordination

Can we set aside for a moment the great debate on should or should not women be ordained and acknowledge that the practice of ordination within the Seventh-day Adventist Church with or without women as a part of it is a mess?

In the New Testament the only real story of “ordination” I see takes place in Acts chapter 6. Here is what lead to that ordination: a need arose to feed widows so the Apostles could continue to study, teach, and pray, the Twelve Apostles called together the congregation of disciples and told them to choose “seven men of good reputation, full of wisdom, and of the Spirit…” (Acts 6:3)   These disciples accepted the appeal chose seven, “And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”

As I think of this story three thoughts come to my mind:

  1. The need for ordination arose out of a practical need within the church, not policy.
  2. This office, the Diaconate, that has had such a huge place in the context of the history of the church and the Twelve didn’t even choose those who were to be first ordained to this weighty service that we would squabble over for the life of the church. They entrusted this task to the congregation of disciples.
  3. When seven were chosen they prayed for them and then laid hands on them. It doesn’t seem like that much fanfare.

Ordination doesn’t seem to be so simple these days…

It also seemed quite simple at least as far as the requirements for ordination go in the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Read what James White stated just a year before the organization of our movement:

“In no way can a preacher so well prove himself, as in entering new fields…. If he be successful in raising up churches, and establishing them, so that they bear good fruits, he gives to his brethren the best proofs that he is sent of the Lord…If they cannot raise up churches … then certainly the cause of truth has no need of them, and they have the best reasons for concluding that they made a sad mistake when they thought that God called them to teach the third angel’s message.” -James White, Review and Herald. April 15, 1862

Wow! If only it were that uncomplicated now. “If they cannot raise up churches…then certainly the cause of truth has no need of them, and they have the best reasons for concluding that they made a sad mistake when they thought that God called them to teach the third angel’s message.” OUCH! James was a tough hombre!

I make the assumption though I don’t think it is a great leap that what Elder White was saying is that if a person couldn’t “bear fruit” i.e. get converts, “couldn’t raise up a church” i.e. get people to follow, then that person was not worthy to be ordained for the work of ministry.  Very clean and simple.

Ordination doesn’t seem to be so simple these days…

At Southern Adventist University in one of the classes I took we had to memorize the following statement:

“Ordination is the public recognition through outward evidences of God’s inward calling on one’s life to the work of ministry.”

That seems rather clean and simple too.

But ordination doesn’t seem to be so simple these days…

In fact it’s not simple at all…it’s a mess!

Because no one seems to know what those outer evidences are, and how to asses them.

I’m now working in my third conference…

In my first conference in order to be ordained you had to do the following…well I won’t list all you had to do, because it was ridiculous…but I’ll share a few with you.

  • Have a Masters in Divinity (not ridiculous but I think a dangerous requirement to have for all ordinations, an example of this later).
  • Hold two evangelistic series. I think they have changed it to one now, which makes one wonder if it can be changed to one from two why would it even be a requirement in the first place. Of course one could argue that this would support James White’s premise of “bearing fruit” i.e. converts. One could argue that, except there was no stipulation on producing fruit, unless you count that you had to keep your handbill and any other materials from the meetings and put them in your portfolio.
  • A third thing we were required to do was to show evidence of being able to lead a committee of some sort. One of the recommendations was if you were an associate that you would have the opportunity to chair a board a couple times (this is one of the things they request in my current conference as well). Cause there is nothing like chairing a board two or three times to show evidence you are ready for ordination.
  • There were dozens of other steps that were asked of you as well. I still have a box full of bulletins, minutes, posters, etc., anything I could find to put into a portfolio so I’d have the opportunity to stand before many people, including many that had never met me, they would look through my portfolio interview me and then say, “yea” or “nay” to my ordination.

Ordination is a mess!

In my second conference I cannot honestly tell you what the process was, because prior to moving there one of the agreed upon points was that since I had already gone through the process of the previous conference I would not have to go through their process as well. I was grateful…though the day of my orientation into the conference I was given a book and told I needed to read it and submit a five page paper prior to being ordained. I never read the book and I never wrote the paper…I was still ordained.

Ordination is a mess!

In my third and current conference I am now a mentoring pastor assigned to help others prepare for ordination. Can I share with you a secret? I am having a hard time getting motivated to “mentor.” Not because I don’t like helping other pastors and growing with other pastors, mentoring is so often as beneficial if not more for the mentor as it is for the mentee. No I have a hard time getting motivated because they gave me a 124 page manual I am supposed to go through with my mentee’s and there are checklists they need to do in order to prepare for ordination. Things like do a baby dedication, run a board meeting, do a wedding, and then I’m supposed to talk them about these things and how they personally grew from the experience, a fine resource but of little value in assessing ones qualifications for ordination. Since when do weddings and baby dedications have anything to do with converts and raising up a church? The process I was told normally takes five to six years…ugh!

Ordination is a mess!

I have a friend that in the past 11 years has lead more than 1200 people to Jesus in North America, not counting overseas, and the conference he has been a part of won’t ordain him. Why? He doesn’t have a degree…well he has a high-school degree. When I was ordained I’d lead probably 75 or 80 people to Jesus. Shoot I haven’t even lead 1200 people to Jesus yet.

1200 converts/no degree = No ordination

75 converts/degree = ordination

Ordination is a mess!

Could it be we are fighting about ordination so much because we don’t really get it?

We just see this mess we know is important in some way and so we fight over it…

The New Testament: There was a need. There were people ready to do the ministry. They prayed. They ordained.

The early Advent movement: New field “bear fruit” converts. “Raise up a church” followers. Ordained. No converts, no followers, to quote James White,”the cause of truth has no need of them,” which I think it is safe to assume means no ordination.

Now there are dozens of conferences with dozens of different ways to determine who does and who doesn’t get to be ordained all the while we continue to ordain many ministers here in North America that have zero or next to zero baptisms year after year, no converts. Who lead churches that haven’t added a single person year after year, no followers. But hey they are ordained.

What a mess!

I pray that after we accept in San Antonio that God calls whom He calls regardless of gender, that we will then take the time to figure out how to determine whom He is actually calling.

If we don’t we’re just gonna have more people (men and women) jumping through the hoops of the ordination mess we’ve made.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This