Toward blamelessness: practical suggestions on ordination
September 24th, 2019 / By: Tony Wolfe | SBTC Director of Pastor/Church Relations / comments
According to a recent statistical survey by Jason Lowe (jasonalowe.com), the current state of ordination vetting in SBC life is alarming. In keeping with the autonomy of local churches, each church bears not only the joy of ordination but the responsibility of it as well. But are Southern Baptist congregations taking this responsibility seriously enough?
Twice in his letter to young Titus, the apostle Paul uses the word “blameless” to describe the prerequisite for one being considered as the pastor of a local congregation (Titus 1:6-7). But recent happenings in Southern Baptist churches have proven some in Christian leadership today to be anything but blameless.
This is nothing new to Christianity. Two thousand years ago, the teachings of Hymenaeus and Philetus were “ruining the faith of some” in the local church (2 Timothy 2:17). The church leader Demas fell in love with the world and out of ministry (4:10). These were only a few of the church leaders in their day who were arrested in “the trap of the devil” (2:26).
The recent study reveals a need for local churches to be more diligent in the laying on of hands. As has been the case for millennia, we need blameless church leaders. So how do Southern Baptist churches today move toward blamelessness in the laying on of hands? Here are five suggestions.
1. Don’t rush.
When someone surrenders to the call to ministry in your church, wait for the evidence of that calling to take deep root not only in the individual, but in the church as a whole. Develop a pathway—a process—to move a candidate from surrender to ceremony. Require a season of discipleship and mentorship in the ministry by someone who is an ordained minister. Walk with the candidate through spiritual disciplines, ecclesiological practices and Christian character and leadership development. Give responsibility to the candidate gradually over time with regard to teaching and preaching assignments. Allow the candidate to sit in deacons meetings and staff planning meetings. “Don’t be quick in the laying on of hands,” the Bible instructs us. Don’t rush.
2. Run background checks.
While the eternal consequences of every sin are paid in full by the blood of Christ, temporal consequences remain. Every redeemed child of God is gifted by the Holy Spirit for service in the local church, and should exercise that giftedness for the church’s edification. There are, however, some sins that disqualify an individual from holding a vocational office in the church: “Furthermore,” writes Paul to young Timothy, “he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:7); “Blameless,” he instructs Titus.
Those whose actions have resulted in ongoing public dishonor with regard to integrity of faith and practice should not hold offices in the church. They should instead serve behind the scenes, according to their giftedness, and with great humility, looking forward to the day when their redemption in Christ is made complete (Philippians 3:20-21). Run background checks. Be diligent in this.
3. Hold the ordination council before the ordination ceremony is scheduled.
Between 65-72 percent of churches running 50-249 regular worshippers advertise the ordination ceremony before the ordination council is completed. Between 62-74 percent of them reported holding ordination councils the same day as (most of them only hours before) ordination ceremonies. How can we say we are diligent in the laying on of hands if we schedule and publicize the ceremony before the evaluation is completed? Have we not made the council perfunctory when people are gathered for the ceremony before the questioning has even commenced? As a pastor, I myself was guilty of this. Moving forward, it is something I would change.
4. In the ordination council, ask questions about both life and ministry.
The seasoned apostle warned the young pastor, “pay close attention to your life and your ministry” (1 Timothy 4:16). Still today, many pastors do not disqualify themselves on the basis of their teaching, but rather, on the basis of their personal lives. The ordination council is a place for questioning issues of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy—life and ministry. Leave no question unasked. Ask about the nature of baptism, the purpose of preaching and the mission of the local church. Ask also about their salvation experience, sexual purity, areas of potential growth and measures of accountability.
5. Consider license and ordination at the same time.
In years past, licensing someone into the ministry was understood to be a step on the way toward ordination. This is a practice that needs to change moving forward. For many, especially in the public realm, licensing and ordination are viewed as equally substantial. Licensing usually allows someone to perform the duties of the office of pastor in the public realm, while ordination is the church’s stamp of approval on a person’s eligibility to hold the office within a church.
Should we approve someone to perform public duties of an office they have not been affirmed to privately hold? I submit to you that we need to rethink licensing apart from ordination. Let our affirmation of the gospel call be clear with regard to both public performance and private office.
When it comes to ordination practices in the Baptist church, we have a long way to go toward blamelessness. But we will only get there if we take one step at a time in the right direction. What step can your congregation take today to move her forward, toward blamelessness, in affirming the call of God on someone’s life into the gospel ministry?