Killian Hill Baptist Church had the distinct privilege of ordaining a man to the gospel ministry last weekend. By God’s grace, we’re going to have several similar opportunities over the next year. It was a great time to reflect on the meaning and importance of ordinations. Here’s a concise summary of what ordination is about.
1. Ordination is the church’s recognition of a man’s call to the ministry.
Scripture is clear that the call to ministry is issued by God, not man (Acts 20:28). But God has wisely and graciously allowed the local church to act in recognition of that call through the process of ordination. By way of analogy, you might compare ordination to a lawyer passing a bar exam in order to practice law or to a school being accredited. Ordination indicates that the man has been examined and has proven his fitness for the work of the ministry. The responsibility lies with the local assembly (as opposed to a denomination, mission board, or the government), but it is the elders who take the initiative in ordination (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). Spurgeon notes the importance of the church’s role in recognizing a man’s call to the ministry:
“The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church. It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God….The signs and marks of a true bishop are laid down in the Word for the guidance of the church; and if in following such guidance the brethren see not in us the qualifications, and do not elect us to office, it is plain enough that however well we may evangelize, the office of the pastor is not for us. Churches are not all wise….Yet, I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces” (Lectures to My Students).
I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and gracesCharles Spurgeon
2. Ordination is the church’s protection of the sanctity of the ministry.
Ordination brings a grave responsibility. Paul commands Timothy to be motivated for ministry by recalling his own ordination (1 Timothy 4:14). But just a chapter later he warns Timothy not to be hasty in ordaining others (1 Timothy 5:22). In fact, thrusting someone into ministry too early or in spite of significant deficiencies makes the person participating in the ordination culpable for the man’s ministerial sins: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” Ordination, then, requires testing of the candidate’s character, orthodoxy, and giftedness. There must be the willingness to say “no” if the candidate is unfit.
3. Ordination is the church’s petition for God’s blessing on the ministry.
The ordination process climaxes in the elders’ “laying hands” on the candidate for ministry. As I understand the symbolism of this act throughout the Scriptures, nothing is actually conferred on the person through this process. Rather, it is a symbolic gesture associated with prayer for God’s particular blessing (as when the patriarchs would lay hands on their sons and bless them). It the New Testament, prayerful laying on of hands occurs in non-ordination settings, as in Acts 6:6 for deacons, or Acts 13:1-3 for missionaries (who may have been ordained to gospel ministry prior to this particular commissioning to a new work). But it is a vital reminder that the candidate needs more than the church’s seal of approval—he needs divine wisdom, enablement, and protection. And so we pray for him.
The candidate needs more than the church’s seal of approval—he needs divine wisdom, enablement, and protection
My favorite part of our recent ordination service was the prayer of Mike Riley, the man who preceded me at Killian Hill and who was the candidate’s pastor for most of his life. As an “elder elder,” now retired from ministry, Mike thanked God for the grace and wisdom shown in allowing ministry to continue from one generation to another through the calling and gifting of men for ministry. It was so moving. See, ordination isn’t just a rite of passage for pastors. It’s the passing of a baton—our participation in God’s ongoing care for his church. Ordination is a 2,000-year-old event, teeming with spiritual significance. What a responsibility. And what a joy. Grace!