An Applied Theology of Ordination into Public Gospel Ministry

Ordination is a cause of great joy among a local church. While in ordination, a church sometimes has the sadness of not seeing the man whom they ordain and his family as often, they gain the great joy and comfort of knowing that God has and is using their church to spread His Word to others through the one they ordain. They have the peace and satisfaction of knowing that through ordination, in part, they are obeying Christ’s Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20) and presenting a pleasing offering to the Lord.

Christ’s Charge to Peter, Raphael, 1515

So what does it mean to ordain someone into gospel ministry? This kind of ordination is a church’s formal recognition of God’s calling on a man’s life into the public ministry of the Word of God and that church’s endorsement of the man’s character, doctrine, and ability to teach. Ordination should be understood as the result of a candidate and his church discerning God’s will together. Typically, but not always, when a church ordains someone into gospel ministry, it is an act of sending him elsewhere to minister the Word (Acts 13:1-4).

The first step of ordination is initiated by God when He calls a man into the public ministry of the Word (Is. 6:6-9). Then, the one whom God has called receives what pastoral theologians often describe as an inner calling. This inner calling is an internal realization of the great necessity (Lk 4:43), significant burden (1 Cor 9:16-17), and growing desire (1 Tim 3:1) for the work. Pastors and preachers must have this inner calling or they will not endure in the work because of its many difficulties. Common advice pastors give to those considering whether they are called is, “If you can do anything else and be content, don’t enter the ministry.” This advice is given because seasoned pastors know that this inner calling will not allow for contentment in any other vocation.

The second step of ordination is when the man who is experiencing an inner calling acknowledges that inner calling to his local church. If his church believes he may be called and that he possess the godliness of character (1 Tim 3:1-7), they typically license him into gospel ministry as a “tentative approval…to serve until he has proven himself qualified for ordination” (Vansant Baptist Church Constitution, Section 1). Then, the candidate will accept as many opportunities to preach and teach as he can and the church will observe him to find evidence of God’s calling on his life.

When the candidate and the church believe that sufficient evidence has been given, they begin the process of ordination. Ordination is a manifestation of what pastoral theologians often describe as the outer calling. The outer calling is when a local church, discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading, acknowledges and recognizes God’s calling on the man’s life for public ministry of the Word.

The third step of ordination is when the church formally enters the process of ordination. But how does God desire a church to go about ordaining someone? This process must be undertaken with reverence and without a hint of flippancy. A church should be very cautious and patient when it comes to ordaining preachers. God will hold a church accountable for the sins of the preacher whom they ordain without proper inspection (1 Tim 5:22).

Further, God expects others who have received the calling to examine the candidates’ fitness of character, soundness of doctrine, and aptness to teach (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Cor 14:29, 32-33). In the New Testament, every church had multiple pastors so they were able to examine a candidate entirely “in-house.” Yet today, many Baptist churches have one pastor. Therefore, to allow for this examination by others who have the same calling, most Baptist churches will invite other pastors and preachers to serve as or on an Ordination Council.

The Ordination Council will examine a candidate and makes a recommendation to the church about whether to ordain the man or not. Because of the nature of the church, individuals (such as a pastor or preacher), nor subsets of the church (such as boards), nor an Ordination Council, nor a denominational entity (such as a seminary, convention, or mission board) have authority to ordain. The local church is the one whom Christ has given the authority and responsibility to ordain. Every local church must recognize and submit to Christ as her head (Col 1:18) and must strive to ensure that only those who are genuinely born again and are therefore led by the Holy Spirit, are church members. As these Spirit-led members seek to discern God’s will together, the Holy Spirit will guide them to a consensus which is often expressed by a vote. This local church authority is acted out in the New Testament as local churches practiced church discipline (Mt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:2), restored repentant members who were disciplined (2 Cor 2:6-7), baptized new believers into membership (Acts 2:41), ordained deacons (Acts 6:3), sent missionaries (Acts 13:2-3), and corrected false teaching (Acts 15:22). Jesus built His church on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20) and expressed His investment of authority upon local churches to discern and act upon His will in the terms of binding and loosing (Mt 16:13-19; 18:15-20).

The fourth step in ordination is that the church’s membership, after receiving a recommendation from the Ordination Council, will decide whether to ordain. If the church votes to ordain a man into public gospel ministry, they will set aside time to pray for him and lay hands on him, symbolizing that the church is placing a great deal of trust and responsibility in the man to do what God has called him to do (1 Tim. 5:22; Acts 13:1-3). Ordination is the result of a local church body discerning God’s calling of a man into public gospel ministry.