Called to Preach
You have been called to preach or serve in some officially recognized capacity in the local church. You start to work your way toward ordination. You take the classes, you serve the requisite number of years and now you apply to be ordained by the Church. Is the Church obligated to ordain you?
I have served on the committee within the Nazarene Church that interviews potential ordination candidates for 12 years. Every year there are difficult cases that challenges the leaders. We want to extend love, grace and understanding but “why is this case so difficult?”
In every setting where I have served there have been those who have coached, mentored and taught those preparing for a lifetime of ordained ministry. In every setting there are those who, for whatever reason, don’t respond to that investment. In those situations we ask, “Why won’t this person respond?” Here are a few things I have learned about the licensing and ordaining of ministers in the church.
It is God who calls and it is the Church who ordains. We have to keep this clear. Yes, the task of the interview process includes a search to determine if there is a call to ministry. However, there is more to being ordained than solely possessing a call to ministry. The clear articulation of a call to ministry should not alone pave the way to ordination.
The role of those who play a part in deciding who is and is not ordained must take into account the gifts and graces for ministry. You may ask, “What are the gifts and graces for ministry?” If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are biblical requirements for displaying the fruit of the Spirit, we should probably start with this list. There are other requirements for sure. However, this list is a good place to begin.
God’s call to those with gifts and graces for ministry can be pretty creative. We don’t have to confine the call to those who preach each week to the same congregation on a Sunday morning at 10am. There are those with a call to preach in various contexts and with various approaches. Let’s not dictate to God who he can and cannot call and to what role.
The greatest gift we can give someone today and the church tomorrow is to not ordain someone. If a person shows no initiative to work toward ordination, do you think it will fall upon them at ordination? If a person is unreliable and won’t submit to authority now, do you think they will later? If a person shows a lack of respect for women now, do you think they will later? If a person loves the Nazarene Church but not her doctrine, do you think their mind will change at ordination? Do the church a favor and own the responsibility to stand in the way of a person being ordained.
Recognize that you may not ordain someone that should be ordained. Those persons will either be discouraged and quit or be filled with a holy fire to do what God has called them to do. There are some great leaders down through the history of the Church who were not recognized by those in authority but then went on to be amazing leaders. It also could be that the Church led some to quit. We need to trust God with this one and repent when necessary.
There are two risks, licensing / ordaining someone that should not be or not licensing / ordaining someone that should be. I personally believe that the risks associated with the former outweigh the risks of the latter.
The responsibility for communicating the call, a clear Wesleyan theology, a purposeful ministry and the gifts and graces for that ministry rest with the ordinand, not the church. The church can (and should) coach, teach and mentor but it is the responsibility of the candidate to do the necessary work to be prepared for ministry and communicate the same.
If you are on a board that determines if people are licensed or ordained, I hope this serves as a discussion starter for you. If you are on the journey toward ordination, know that folks are working hard to make sure you are prepared. However, your investment in and commitment to the process of preparation is critically vital in communicating that you place great value on the call of God in your life. Do everything you can to demonstrate to those in authority that you are ready to be ordained into pastoral ministry. If you do, your interviews will go well and after you leave the room, we will say, “That person has a bright future ahead as a minister of the gospel.”