What are the myths about being ordained? There is some ignorance and fear about ordination, especially in the Free Church movement – it’s a thing of the past, no one needs to be ordained, it’s not necessary. It’s a method of control: if you’re ordained somehow your spiritual life is stifled, or you have to compromise with what you really believe to be ordained. There are many fears and concerned, and those would be associated with particular denominations, e.g. the Anglican communion, or the United Reform. Some would think you’re coming under something oppressive or even demonic when you ‘agree’ with that denomination.
It’s important to remember Galatians 5:1: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of bondage.’ I would argue that ordination is not a snare – it is both less and more than is thought by many in the evangelical church. It is a technicality but it has some spiritual depth.
Ordination is not a qualification that somehow immediately makes you more spiritual than anyone else. The purpose is not for status. I see it as a response to God’s calling. It is one of many responses that we can make to God’s calling on our lives. Just because you are not pursuing ordination, it does not mean that God does not have a calling on your life. But if you are, it is a response to God’s calling.
Secondly, ordination is not somehow a money-making idea, or a professionalising of faith. One of the problems I have with those individuals who are saying: Look, you don’t need it, it’s not necessary, is that they’re speaking maybe from a place where they’ve never led a church. People who’ve never carried the burden for something can easily say: this isn’t needed. But everything looks different when the buck stops with you – everything looks different when you take responsibility.
I’m doing to draw an analogy as a school teacher. I’ve watched many people run schools. I’ve admired, I’ve sometimes been critical in my head, I’ve tried to help, I’ve responded to the way that schools have been run by different head teachers, but I’ve never been a headteacher and I’ve no idea what that experience is like, being responsible for everything that goes on in a school, for carrying the responsibility for that, along with the Chair of Governors – to be carrying that responsibility.
I’d put a word of caution out there for those who say: you don’t NEED to be ordained. For me, there are two things – it’s a calling, and it’s a response to a calling, and it’s also a structured way of responding and to say that I’m committed to that, and I’m going to be obedient to that: secondly, being ordained is coming into relationship with a network of Christian leaders, a spiritual network, rather than a status or a position, it’s not a rank. I’ll write in another post what it means being ordained in Elim, but what it means is a live relationship with this network of Christians. So what it provides, that certainly our church has not had with some years, is a connection and safety net, if you like – a board of reference. It isn’t a desire to have everything provided for. This is one of the myths of ordination, that everything’s provided for you on a plate. You don’t necessarily get a salary, if you’re ordained; there are some provisions within different denominations for those who are ordained, but they’re not extensive, certainly not at a low level. For myself, working part-time as a teacher, that’s not what I’m doing it for. When I was working with some responsibility as a teacher, it was reasonably well-remunerated – but this is not, and this isn’t the purpose of it. Our previous pastor was faithful and awesome in his role, and yet he wasn’t ordained. He has said it very well, however, that the times have changed, and that one of the reasons of ordination is the expectation that the community still have towards those who are.
Another thing that ordination is not is ‘Look at me, I deserve brownie points, aren’t I fantastic,’ and there is this myth that those who are ordained are more able or competent than those who aren’t ordained. Standing from nearly at the point (three years away) from getting ordained, I think it’s very much an ‘open book’. You’re ordained – okay. It doesn’t necessarily mean much on its own. I see qualified teachers every day, I see them at work in the classroom, if I had the role of appointing teachers, I wouldn’t employ them JUST because they’re qualified – there are qualified teachers and there are qualified teachers. Everyone brings a story with them, and it’s connecting into that story that is part of the process. Ordination is an opportunity to connect into more peoples’ stories, and it’s still the role of each individual on the journey to hear from God, and to be obedient, just like any of us!
Finally, I would suggest that on that level of technicality, of practicality, there is a distinct set of experiences and knowledge that ordination carries with it. Yes, some of these things can be done in some denominations by those who aren’t ordained; but for the recognised denominations, it’s also an incredible opportunity to be Jesus to others. Baptism, infant baptism, marriage, funerals, discipleship of children, being there for the bereaved, the suicidal, the sick, those in prison – it’s a way of responding to the ‘sheep and the goats’ parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 25. All missionaries will do this sort of work, and most church pastors will too. And that is very exciting.
Ordination is a strong, a life-long calling to be Jesus’ hands and feet, and to visibly represent the King of kings on earth. We are all called to do this, yes – but those getting ordained are those stepping up to the plate and saying: We want the Body of Christ to be served, to continue, we want to be faithful, we want to be obedient. As I say, it’s ONE response to God’s calling on your life.