“Ordination” is a funny, “churchy” sounding-word that might not mean a lot to many people. But within proper context, it is filled with significance. To get an idea of how important it is, consider the role of Ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike most Protestant Churches (including the Church of the Nazarene), which recognize two sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), Catholics recognize seven sacraments. Two of these additional five are Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders, and these two do not mix. Ordination is so significant for Catholics that those who are ordained cannot get married.
Different organizations have different requirements for Ordination, but pretty much all representations of Christianity have Ordination of some sort. In some cases, it requires little preparation and simply the local church’s or organization’s affirmation that the person is ordained. In other organizations, it requires years of preparation, including a Master of Divinity Degree, or even a Doctorate of some type. (And, of course, there are those mail order Certificates of Ordination that are essentially fake but legit in a nation with freedom of religion.)
My own denomination, The Church of the Nazarene (COTN), offers this Theology of Ordination in its Manual:
“While affirming the scriptural tenet of the universal priesthood and ministry of all believers, ordination reflects the biblical belief that God calls and gifts certain men and women for ministerial leadership in the church. Ordination is the authenticating, authorizing act of the Church, which recognizes and confirms God’s call to ministerial leadership as stewards and proclaimers of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ. Consequently, ordination bears witness to the Church universal and the world at large that this candidate evidences an exemplary life of holiness, possesses gifts and graces for public ministry, and has a thirst for knowledge, especially for the Word of God, and has the capacity to communicate sound doctrine.”
The COTN takes a moderate approach to Ordination. We require experience and education prior to bestowing Orders, but we do not require the depth of education that some organizations require. It is preferred that Ordinands complete a ministry degree from one of our colleges or universities, but there is a non-degree path to completing the education requirements.
The path to ordination looks something like this:
1) A man or woman will receive a “local license” from their local church. This license does not grant any legal status of clergy, but it does indicate that the person’s local church recognizes his or her potential for ministry. When a local license is granted, that person is also enrolled in his or her district’s education program, which can either be completed through a Nazarene college or university or through modules taken on district.
2) When a prospective pastor has held a local license for at least a year and completed Level 1 (of four) of the education program, he or she can apply to receive a district license. This is done by a recommendation of the local church board to the District Ministerial Credentials Board. The candidate interviews before the DMCB, which then makes a recommendation to the District Assembly. The District Assembly votes to accept the report from the DMCB, and the person is granted a district license for one year. This district license is what grants the legal status of “clergy” to the person. Each year, district license holders are required to complete at least two courses in their education program and interview before the DMCB again.
3) When a district licensed pastor has completed his or her education program and has held a district license for at least three years serving in a full-time ministry capacity (or four years, I believe, in a part-time ministry capacity), he or she becomes eligible for Ordination. Ordination is not a right bestowed once the requirements are completed, though. It is a privilege granted to those deemed worthy. The Ordination candidate interviews with the DMCB again, and that board makes the recommendation to the District Assembly. Following an affirmative DA vote, the candidate then meets with the Presiding General Superintendent of the District Assembly, who gives the final approval for Ordination. When that approval is given, a special service is held, and all the ordained elders present lay hands on the Ordinand as the Presiding GS gives the blessing and proclamation.
I have been on the path to Ordination for a long time. I first perceived a call to ministry when I was as young as nine-years-old. As I recently turned 39, that was 30 years ago! When I was a teen, I considered some other possibilities, but when I was around 18, I perceived the call again. I was given my first chance to serve as a youth pastor and receive a local license when I was 23 at Casper, WY First COTN. I was in that role for a little over two years and then took a hiatus from “professional” ministry. A couple of years later, though, I resumed my education, and on June 19, 2008, I received my first District License. On November 2, 2009, I began a new ministry assignment, serving as the youth pastor at Bitterroot Valley COTN in Victor, MT, where I served through October 2017. I now serve as the worship pastor at SonRise COTN in Cheyenne, WY.
I had a few bumps along the way. When I moved to Montana, I was on track to complete my BA in Bible & Theology through Nazarene Bible College later that Spring. However, my move was such a significant step that I had to back off. Perhaps I backed off a bit too much, because I ended up taking a two-year hiatus from being a district license holder from 2013-2015. In January 2015, though, I resumed my formal education, and I was invited to participate in the Commencement of Northwest Nazarene University’s College of Adult & Graduate Studies in May 2017 (and officially graduating with my BA in Christian Ministry in October of that same year). Having completed my degree, I had finally completed the education requirements for ordination.
As previously mentioned, though, Ordination is not a right. It is a privilege. Three months ago, I interviewed before the Rocky Mountain District Ministry Credentials Board. That board is recommending me to the District Assembly for Elders Orders. The DA meets in three days, on Saturday, June 23rd. Should they vote to accept me for Ordination, I will then meet with Dr. Gustavo Crocker, our Presiding General Superintendent this year. He will then have the final say on if I will be ordained that evening.
This has been a long journey! And though I am nearing the end of one path, really I am only approaching the beginning of another. As the day approaches, I am filled with a lot of excitement . . . and some nervousness. My friends and mentors who have gone on this journey before me have told me that I have nothing to be worried about. They have assured me that I am ready. But . . . am I? Reviewing the Theology of Ordination, can I really live up to that? Well, of course, the answer is that I can’t. But as I surrender to the Holy Spirit, I believe that God will empower me to do all that God has for me to do. I simply need to be faithful to God.
So . . . I will leave these reflections for now with a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, found in The Fellowship of the Ring:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.