The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – What Is Ordination?

What does “ordination” make you think of? Maybe you imagine a solemn ceremony where men wearing black robes touch you on the head with a scepter and pronounce you “Reverend.” Or you see yourself seated alone at a massive table while scholars of divinity gleefully examine you with tricky theological questions. Possibly you have no idea what ordination is as it relates to pastoral ministry.

This post is part of the series on Pathway to Pastoral Ministry which starts here.

Ordination is a significant milestone on the pathway to pastoral ministry. I want to help you understand ordination so you can anticipate and prepare for it. You won’t find the word “ordination” in the Bible related to men becoming pastors. But there is a biblical practice that is the basis for ordination. Bible-based churches today practice ordination in a way that follows this pattern.

When a man is ordained for ministry, pastors who know him affirm that he is qualified, gifted, and ready to serve as a pastor. The ordination event usually includes a formal examination by an ordination council. This council consists of pastors and other ministry leaders who are themselves ordained.

These men hear the candidate’s testimony of being saved and called to ministry. The candidate presents a written statement of biblical doctrines and they ask him questions about it. They may also question him regarding his views on current issues.

If the council determines he is ready to begin serving as a pastor, they will make this recommendation to his church. The church then makes it official in a special ordination service. This usually involves a ceremonial laying on of hands by church leaders.

The books of 1 Timothy and Titus contain examples we follow in our practice of ordination. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 describes the kind of man who is qualified for pastoral ministry. Paul’s instructions to Timothy imply that Timothy was supposed to decide whether a man was qualified for ministry or not. The process of ordination is intended to determine and confirm that a man is qualified for ministry based on his character, understanding of the Bible, and gifts.

In Titus 1:5 Paul instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” Then he gave Titus a list of qualifications (verses 6-9) mirroring those in 1 Timothy 3. So again we see spiritual leaders in the church are to evaluate and confirm that a man is ready for ministry.

1 Timothy 4:14 speaks of an event in Timothy’s life. Paul encouraged Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” The “council of elders” was a group of pastors who formally affirmed Timothy’s giftedness and readiness for ministry. They signified this affirmation by the act of laying their hands on Timothy.

Pastors who know you will be the natural ones to ordain you. Ideally they will be involved in your life during the years leading up to your ordination. They may help you by pointing out areas where you can grow. They will give you opportunities to learn ministry so you will be ready for ordination. Stay in close touch with the pastors in your life.

If you are considering ministry, you shouldn’t worry about ordination, but anticipate it like a graduation. A healthy respect for the significance of this event is appropriate. But when the time comes, you will be ready. Ordination will be an occasion for you and those who have invested in you to recognize and celebrate God’s faithfulness and grace in calling you to ministry.

Next – Called To a Church!

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