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 Hiking Trailpart 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!

Pastors Need Leadership Skills

Hiking TrailThis is Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Develop Pastoral Skills (Part 3). Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. The series starts here.

In addition to speaking skills and people skills, pastors need leadership skills. If you’re thinking about going into ministry, now is a good time to begin growing as a leader.

Leadership is the ability to influence people in a direction they need to go.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you are an aggressive personality, taking charge of everything and ordering people around. Leaders see the direction a group of people needs to go. In the church setting, that includes spiritual growth on an individual level, and it includes making disciples as a church. A leader communicates those ultimate goals to the people. He also encourages and equips them to pursue those goals.

A pastor, as a leader in the church, will often see steps a church can take or strategic efforts it can implement in order to pursue the goal of reaching its community with the gospel and making disciples. He will intentionally provide teaching and urge the people to do their part. Or he may see ways in which the church needs to mature as a body, so he preaches from passages of Scripture related to those areas and plans ways the church can apply these truths together.

How can you develop now as a leader?

1. Pray for God to develop your leadership. Jesus developed the disciples. They were normal men who became influencers. He taught them, gave them opportunities to serve, corrected them when needed, and eventually entrusted them with starting the first churches after He ascended back to heaven.

In a similar way, God will enable and develop you into the leader you need to be in order to fulfill His purpose for you. Express your dependence on Him through prayer. Ask Him to give you wisdom, help you learn from experience, and mature you into a man who can influence others.

2. Learn from others who lead. You can do this by reading good resources on leadership. A great book to start with is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. I recommend it very highly. Sanders tells you what it means to be a spiritual leader, gives many helpful principles, and includes a lot of examples. It is truly a life-changing book. You might want to read and discuss it along with someone else – your Dad, your pastor or youth pastor, or a friend.

Also, observe how your pastor and others in positions of influence exercise leadership. Watch how they lead a group of people to pursue goals. See how they communicate. Notice how they plan, then enlist and equip others to pursue the plan. Pay attention to how their example affects others.

You can even learn from leaders’ weaknesses and mistakes. I don’t mean to encourage you to have a critical spirit. But sometimes leaders handle things in a way that isn’t the best. Quietly make a mental note of what they did and the impact it had, and think of how you might handle it differently if you were in their place.

3. Learn from Jesus. Jesus is the greatest leader of all. Read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) paying special attention to how Jesus influenced others and what He taught His disciples about leadership.

Carefully read Mark 10:35-45. Jesus’ disciples asked Him for prominent positions in His kingdom. He responded by telling them greatness in God’s eyes is very different from how the world views it. His words have become the gold standard for leadership in Christian ministry:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, ESV).

You can learn Christ-like leadership by letting these words shape your life. Pray the quality of selfless service will be formed in your heart and will determine how you relate to others.

4. Seek opportunities to get experience. In your church setting, this may include helping plan and execute events, assisting with Vacation Bible School, or being on a youth council. There may also be opportunities at your school – class offices, special events, athletics, or clubs. If you have a part-time or summer job, look for ways to go beyond just putting in your time. Take extra responsibilities, help with planning, or develop a new idea to improve the business.

Leadership can be learned.

Some people’s natural personalities or abilities make them leaders. You may not feel like that’s you. But anyone can acquire knowledge, gain experience, and develop leadership skills. And when God wants you to influence others, He is at work from within, growing you so He can use you in Christ’s church-building work.

If you are supposed to be a pastor, God will enable you and you will learn to lead. Think of it like a shepherd with sheep. He knows they need food, water and protection. The shepherd thinks ahead, knows where to take them for nourishment and safety, gets out in front, and starts going in that direction. His sheep follow him.

As a pastor, you will need to get out in front. You don’t have to act like a military commander or a corporate CEO. Just start pursuing spiritual growth and bring others with you.

I love this quote:

“Leadership is often viewed as the product of natural endowments and traits of personality – intellectual capacity, force of will, enthusiasm. That such talents and scholastic attainments do greatly enhance leadership is beyond question, but those are not the factors of paramount importance in the spiritual leader. The real qualities of leadership are to be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience” (from Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, p. 25, emphasis mine).

If you obey God’s call on your life and His commission to make disciples, and if you are willing to spend your life serving Him, you will influence others in the same direction. You will become the leader you need to be.

Do you know what ordination is? Sound scary? We’ll talk about that next.

Factors That Influence Young Men Toward Ministry

In a recent meeting with college students who are preparing for pastoral ministry, I asked them three questions. I wanted to understand better the influences that encourage high school age young men to consider ministry. We filled a white board and discussed these ideas for about 45 minutes. Mostly I just listened and wrote down what they said.

God calls men into ministry, but people in their lives influence them to consider and pursue it. I encourage pastors, youth pastors, parents, teachers, and any Christian with a position of influence in a young man’s life to read over these questions and answers. Then think about how you might help cultivate a desire for ministry in young men. You may be the one they’re talking about five years from now – the one God used to encourage them toward ministry.

Here are the questions and answers without comment. The answers are not in any significant order, other than approximately as they were given by the students.

What influenced you as a high school age young man                                                   toward ministry?
Youth Pastor
Awana Commander
A man in the church who discipled me
Camp speaker
Camp staff
Bible college students on a traveling team
Opportunities to serve in church
Mission Trips
The need for good preaching
The need for pastors
The effects of sin on friends’ lives
God’s Word

What would you tell high school young men who are considering ministry?
It’s okay if you feel inadequate. God will enable you.
Serve now any way you can.
Be open to change – doing something different than you plan.
Pray about it.
Be in the Word.
Have a high view of the gospel – what it can do in your life and others’ lives.
God is sovereign, He will grow and equip you.
Guard your moral purity.
The ministry isn’t for everyone (James 3:1).
Have friends who encourage you toward ministry, not discourage you from it.
Be all in.
Be real.
Be discipled by someone – seek it out if you have to.
Develop compassion for others.

What would you tell pastors and youth pastors about encouraging young men toward ministry?
Talk to them! Spend time in conversation, get to know them, show interest in them.
Share your own testimony of how God led you into ministry.
Preach on it.
Be a Paul to a Timothy.
Emphasize ministry as a viable option for life’s work.
Disciple them.
Involve them in ministry.