The Ordination of Men to the Ministry
January 3, 2011
Faith Baptist Theological Seminary
The Ordination of Men to the Ministry
Don Anderson, Th.M.
Faith Baptist Theological Seminary is committed to preparing men to serve in the pastoral ministry. Each year churches call FBTS graduates to serve as pastors and assistant pastors. An important step after a man is called to a church is his ordination. In this article, Don Anderson, an ordained minister and adjunct professor at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, examines the Biblical teaching concerning ordination of men to the gospel ministry. In the accompanying article, Professor Anderson’s son, James, also an ordained minister, gives practical suggestions for planning the ordination service.
Ordination to the gospel ministry is a significant and solemn event in a man’s life.1 Churches should understand the Biblical teaching about ordination so they can conduct the procedure in a proper manner.
The General Pattern
Ordinations today generally follow the same pattern. The church, after observing its pastor or assistant pastor for a period of time, decides to call a council to consider the advisability of ordaining hm. In addition to some of its own members,2 the church usually seeks the input of men from area churches.3 On the designated day the church and the council members convene to hear the candidate give his salvation testimony, state his call to the ministry, and express his doctrinal positions. In most cases, the individual prepares a written statement of each doctrine. During the session the candidate summarizes his views on each doctrine, followed by questions from the council members.
After the examination, the candidate is dismissed and the council members share their thoughts on the man. If the council is satisfied that he evidences a call to the ministry and is orthodox in his theology, it recommends to the church that it proceed with the ordination. The church then votes to ordain their pastor or assistant pastor at an upcoming service.
At the end of the ordination service, the deacons and ordained men in the congregation lay their hands on the man, formally setting him aside for the ministry.
What Does the New Testament Say?
How does this general pattern fit with what the New Testament says about ordination? Let’s look first at the Scripture passages where the English word “ordained” is used.
The King James Version uses the word “ordained” 20 times.4 However, only two of the occurrences refer to pastors—Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5. The other major translations use the word “ordained” sparingly5 and do not use it in Acts 14:23 or Titus 1:5. In those passages they uniformly use the word “appointed.” So apparently these two Scriptures are not referring to a pastor’s ordination but rather to the beginning of his service at a church, what we commonly call his installation.
As a side note, how do we understand the concept that the apostles “appointed” pastors in churches as we read in Acts 14:23? Did the apostles simply use their apostolic authority and appoint pastors? Or did Paul lead the churches in a congregational election of their pastors? Homer Kent comments that
although there is no question but that the term is capable of either meaning, the following factors favor the interpretation of an election: (1) The choice of the verb cheirontoneo rather than one of the many general words for “appoint” suggests that the special characteristics of this word [i.e., to elect by a vote of raised hands] should be understood. (2) The only other NT use of this exact verb is clearly with the sense of a congregational election (2 Cor. 8:19). (3) Congregational selection was the apostolic practice in the choice of the Seven (Acts 6:3)6
In view of the meaning of Acts 14:23, Paul’s command to Titus in Titus 1:5 was to lead the churches on the island of Crete in congregational votes to select their pastors.
But What about Ordination?
An examination of the word “ordained” does not give us any clear Biblical direction for the practice of ordination. However, we do find help in three passages that refer to laying on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14, 1 Tim. 5:22, and Acts 13:1–3), a common practice at ordinations.
1 Timothy 4:14 “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”
This verse refers to a time in Timothy’s life that comes the closest to what we call an ordination service today. Consider three questions from this text.
Who ordained? A body of elders ordained Timothy.7 These men may have been from the church at Ephesus where Timothy pastored, but the text is not clear.8 At least they were a Biblically recognized group of church leaders who had the authority to ordain men.
What did they do? The elders laid their hands on Timothy at that special service. Laying on of hands was associated with the bestowal of blessing (Gen. 48:14, 20) and a continuity of leadership (Num. 27:18–23; Deut. 34:9; Acts 6:6; 13:3). So by their laying on of hands, the elders, who were already in church leadership, showed they recognized that Timothy was also qualified and equipped for ministry, and they bestowed their blessing on him. They were symbolizing the continuity of leadership to him.
What was the purpose? This text seems to indicate three purposes for ordaining Timothy.
1. To recognize and set Timothy apart as one who was called of God and qualified for ministry. The event of ordination marked a point of officially recognizing the work of God in his life.
2. To safeguard the ministry. The practice of laying on of hands was a way for the men who had already been approved for leadership to safeguard the ministry by allowing only called and qualified men to enter it. Richard Mayhue comments that “ordination is to church leadership what the bar exam is to the legal profession, the C.P.A. exam to accounting, or state board examinations to medical practice. All these examinations serve to verify genuine qualifications for service in the respective fields.”9
3. To encourage Timothy. Paul urged Timothy to remember his ordination and the gift that had come at that time as a means of encouraging him when he became discouraged.10
1 Timothy 5:22 “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily.”
The context involves pastors—how to compensate them (vv. 17, 18) and how to handle a sinning pastor (vv. 19–21). The injunction is to be careful when selecting pastors. Consider the same three questions.
Who ordained? Evidently Paul thought the church in Ephesus might ordain some of the men of the congregation for ministry. Otherwise he would not have urged Timothy to be careful in doing so. Clearly the local church did the ordaining.
What did they do? As in 1 Timothy 4:14, the people in the church either had or were contemplating laying their hands on some men to set them apart for ministry.
What was the purpose? The statement, “do not lay hands on anyone hastily” seems to indicate a concern for safeguarding the ministry. Paul told Timothy not to rush to ordain men until the church had fully examined them to determine their fitness for ministry.11
Acts 13:1–3 “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
This text does not describe an ordination but rather what we call today a commissioning service for missionaries since the church sent out Paul and Barnabas to missionary endeavor. However, we see some similarities to the ordination process, and we can at least find some principles here that apply to ordination.
Who did the work? The Holy Spirit identified Paul and Barnabas for missionary service. However, clearly the church at Antioch did the work of sending out the two men, which is the Biblical pattern for missionary service and ordination.
What did they do? The prophets and teachers there observed Paul and Barnabas since they had been serving there for some time. The church no doubt observed their character, evaluated their ministry, and checked their orthodoxy. When the church was satisfied that the men were called of God, they laid their hands on them to show their blessing and their authorization.
What was the purpose? The purpose of the church’s examination and setting apart was to send Paul and Barnabas into ministry. While the ordaining church does not usually send away its pastor, the ordination ceremony is one way of setting their pastor apart for ministry at the church.
From this examination of the Scripture, we see these principles and guidelines for ordinations.
1. The local church ordains men. The Scripture gives no precedent for any group outside the local church ordaining men. The ordination council can make a recommendation, but the local church ordains.
2. Ordination involves a process of evaluating a man, which starts before the church ever calls an ordination council.
3. After evaluating a man, the church leaders lay hands on him to show a bestowal of blessing and continuity of leadership.
4. The purpose of ordination is to recognize men whom God has called, to set them apart for ministry, to safeguard the ministry, and to provide an occasion that will encourage them in years to come.
An Important Event
Ordination is an important event in a man’s life. If God has called you to ministry, aspire to ordination. You do not usually ask for it yourself; your church should do so. Still you can aspire to it, desire it, and move toward it in your life. Don’t fear ordination. The process is difficult and challenging, but it can be a real blessing as you study the Scriptures and express Biblical truths. Your ordination will be an event you can lean on later as a confirmation of God’s call to the ministry.
Planning the Ordination Service
James Anderson, M.A.
If the Bible gives little information on how formal ordination took place in the early church, it tells even less about what a formal ordination service should contain. However, as previously demonstrated, ordination is a function of the local church. Whatever other elements may be included in an ordination service, at the least it provides an occasion for the church to take official action to ordain one of its members. Further, because this service is part of the normal activities of the gathered church,1 it should include the Biblically mandated elements of church gatherings, such as singing, praying, Scripture reading, and preaching. “To conduct an ordination service which in any way obscures the worship event is to cheapen the occasion and denigrate the nature of Christian ministry.”2
Though evidence for an “ordination service” as practiced today is not found specifically in Scripture, dedicating all or part of a service to such an event could well have been practiced. No concrete evidence can be generated to suggest that the ecclesiastical officers of the primitive church were inaugurated in any particular fashion or ceremony. This is not to suggest that elders and deacons were just announced without formal installation. The same diverse vocabulary that suggests absence of specific ceremony probably implies some public act of recognition and consecration.3
In other words, even without references to a specific service, the Bible contains at least some suggestion of a formal occasion of setting leaders apart for ministry. Similarly, John Hammett notes, “[Formal] recognition of leaders fits with the admonition to do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40).”4
Within this framework of a basic church service, individual churches have a degree of liberty in planning ordination services. Edward Hiscox, while of the opinion that the early church may not have had formal ceremonies to set apart men for pastoral ministry, nevertheless concludes “that if such ordination or recognition services be held, their form and order are matters of liberty and choice with those concerned in them, since they are prescribed by no Scriptural authority.”5
Advance planning is crucial to a smoothly run service. It is wise for a church to designate someone other than the candidate to coordinate the ordination council and service planning. However, the one planning the service should consult the candidate in designingthe service by asking his input on the hymns sung, the ministry of music presented, and the Scripture passage(s) read. In particular the candidate will probably prefer to recommend the author for the service. The ordination service provides opportunities for several authors to participate, so the candidate may wish to invite one of his former pastors, youth pastors, professors, or other godly mentors to speak.
The ease of desktop publishing allows churches to customize materials for the ordination service. For example, a church can prepare custom-printed ordination certificates6 and ordination service bulletins. Also, a printed order of service separate from the bulletin provides a simple way to keep participants informed.
Sometimes the ordination service takes place on the day of the examination council. While this may make for efficient planning, it can limit the council’s freedom to recommend that the church postpone ordination if significant doctrinal or personal issues arise. Rather, it is better for a church to allow some time between the council and the serviceâat least on the following day, perhaps in the following weeks or months.
A Suggested Order of Service
Churches have a good deal of freedom in the order of events for an ordination service. With this in mind, here is one suggested plan, with commentary.7
Invocation The pastor of the ordaining church (if he is not the one being ordained) or another minister may deliver the invocation.
Hymn The online version of this article (faith.edu) contains a list of suggested ordination hymns.
Scripture Reading Many passages of Scripture are appropriate for an ordination service, such as 2 Corinthians 4; 1 Timothy 3:1â7, 14â16; 1 Timothy 6:3â16; and 1 Peter 4:1â5:11. Alternately, the candidate may wish to assemble a series of passages significant to his own life and ministry. Involving the congregation through a responsive reading allows for greater corporate participation in the service.8
Council Recommendation to the Church At this point the council moderator or other council representative reads the formal action taken by the council to recommend that the church proceed in ordaining the candidate.
Action of the Church on the Recommendation The pastor or other church representative asks for formal church action to accept the council’s recommendation and ordain the candidate to the gospel ministry. Alternately, as part of the vote to call the council the church may have previously moved to ordain the man pending the recommendation of the council. Hymn
Ministry of Music The candidate may have a particular request for the music performed and the groups or individuals who participate in the service.
Charge to the Church This author will primarily advise the church on its responsibilities to the newly ordained man. It has been traditional to have a separate ordination sermon to present the Biblical basis of ordination. If a church chooses not to have this separate sermon, the author delivering the charge to the church could also cover that topic. In cases where the ordained man will not continue to serve at that particular church (such as a missionary or other man being sent forth from the church), a charge to the candidate from the pastor of the ordaining church could be substituted.
Charge to the Candidate This sermon provides an occasion for another ordained man who has been influential in the candidate’s life to remind him of the solemn privileges and responsibilities accompanying ordination.
Laying On of Hands and Ordination Prayer “The actual act of ordination [in the New Testament] consisted of the laying on of hands.”9 This is in many ways the central moment of the service, the part with the clearest Biblical precedent. The New Testament presents various groups as performing this function: elders (1 Tim. 4:14), Paul (2 Tim. 1:6), the apostles (Acts 6:6) and prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1–3). Robert Saucy comments, “In each instance the act of ordination was performed by the leaders ofthe church acting on behalf of the church itself, indicating that the church as a whole is the final ordaining body through which the Holy Spirit directs in the appointment of ministries.”10 Any other pastoral staff members of the church would certainly participate in this part ofthe service. Many times the invitation will also be extended to other examination council members or ordained men present at the service. The pastor or one of the authors then prays and asks for God’s blessing on the newly ordained man.
Right Hand of Fellowship and Presentation of Ordination Certificate The pastor of the ordaining church (if he is not the one being ordained) or a representative fellow minister welcomes the newly ordained man to his role.
Response from the Candidate It is appropriate at this point for the newly ordained man to speak a few words of thanks, particularly to the One who put him into service (1 Tim. 1:12).
Benediction This prayer may be offered by the newly ordained man or the pastor of the ordaining church.
Closing Hymn A short hymn of benediction, such as the Doxology, provides an appropriate ending to the service.
Offering The church typically takes an offering to give to the newly ordained man. This part could be inserted earlier in the service, but since this offering is not an act of worship by giving to God through the church, it may be more appropriate simply to have ushers at the doors at the end of the service to collect the money given.End Notes 1 For more on the activities of the church, see Kevin Mungons, “When the Church Gathers,” and the related sidebar “Activities of the Gathered Church,” in the March/April 2009 issue of The Baptist Bulletin (also available at http://baptistbulletin.org/?p=2736, accessed February 6, 2011). 2 Bill J. Leonard, “The Ordination Service in Baptist Churches,” Review and Expositor LXXVIII, no. 4 (Fall 1981): 560. 3 Paige Patterson, “The Meaning of Authority in the Local Church,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 252. 4 John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005), 207. 5 Edward Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1894), 345–346. 6 Many publishing companies and Christian bookstores sell preprinted ordination certificates. However, with custom-prepared certificates the church can include a Scripture passage of special significance to the candidate and also print the exact number of lines needed for the councils’ signatures. 7 This order of service is adapted from the one given by Paul Jackson in The Doctrine and Administration of the Church (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1980), 147–148. 8 The online version of this article (faith.edu) contains a sample composite Scripture reading for an ordination service. 9 Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 163. 10 Saucy, 164. Suggested Hymns for the Ordination Service In the list below, the author of the text is named first, followed by the composer of the most common tune for the text. • “A Charge to Keep I Have” (Charles Wesley/Lowell Mason) • “Be Thou My Vision” (Ancient Irish hymn/Irish folk melody) • “Come, All Christians, Be Committed” (Eva Lloyd/traditional American melody) • “He Who Would Valiant Be” (John Bunyan, alt. Percy Dearmer/Charles Douglas) • “Lord, Send Me Anywhere” (David Livingstone and Frank Garlock/Faye LÃ³pez) • “Lord, Speak to Me” (Frances Ridley Havergal/Robert Schumann) • “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” (Kate Wilkinson/A. Cyril Barham-Gould) • “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (Charles Wesley/George Elvey) • “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated” (Frances Ridley Havergal/H. A. C. Malan) • “The Battle Is the Lord’s” (Margaret Clarkson/traditional Hebrew melody) • “The Church’s One Foundation” (Samuel Stone/Samuel Wesley) • “Who Is on the Lord’s Side?” (Frances Ridley Havergal/C. Luise Reichardt) Scripture Reading for Ordination Service It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time–He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.