This is the conclusion to the five-part series, “Why I’m a Nazarene”:
- Part 1: History and Background of the Church of the Nazarene
- Part 2: Equality in Ministry in the Church of the Nazarene
- Part 3: Scriptural Interpretation in the Church of the Nazarene
- Part 4: Optimistic Grace in the Church of the Nazarene
On April 20, I had the honor and privilege of being ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene alongside eight of my fellow ministers on the Oklahoma District. Leaders from our denomination and our district placed their hands on my head, prayed over me, and conferred upon me the rights of an ordained minister. It was a beautiful service and a wonderful time of reflection and celebration. But the journey to get to that point was not a quick or easy one.
What is ordination?
First, some clarification on what it means to be “called by God.”
As Christians, we are all called to preach the gospel of Christ and be partners with God’s mission in the world. This calling is not exclusive to pastors or missionaries. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 was meant for all of Christ’s disciples, both then and now. In Protestant traditions, this belief is known as the “priesthood of believers.”
However, God has specifically called some of his followers into vocational ministry. These women and men are the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers whose responsibility it is “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12) Vocational ministry takes on a variety of different forms: lead pastors, staff pastors, evangelists, missionaries, chaplains, theologians, professors, and musicians just to name a few. Those in vocational ministry may also be “bi-vocational,” holding a “secular job” alongside their ministerial profession. But those in vocational ministry should all hold one thing in common: they have been called by Christ to equip his Church.
Ordination, then, is how the Church confirms that someone has truly received a genuine call into vocational ministry. It is an affirming act where the Church declares that a person has the gifts and graces necessary for vocational ministry. Through ordination, the leaders of the Church acknowledge that the ordinand has completed the all the necessary and practical training to be a minister of the gospel of Christ.
Much like baptism is an outward sign and seal of one’s salvation, ordination is the outward sign and seal of one’s call into vocational ministry. Both baptism and ordination are acts done by the Church, but ultimately, it is God who does the saving and God who does the calling.
Going all the way back to the early church, ordination is the symbolic and literal “placing of hands” by the elders of the community onto the minister and sending him or her out to minister to the world.
As Nazarenes, ordination is a very sacred and special time in the lives of pastors. It is not something that is taken lightly.
In some denominations, all that is required for ordination is for a local church body to approve you — no education or experience necessary. In other denominations, the minimum educational requirement for ordination is a Masters of Divinity. I tend to think that Nazarenes strike a balance between these two extreme approaches while still upholding the sacredness of ordination.
In the Church of the Nazarene, ordination is a multi-year long process that includes three different areas of emphasis:
- Education: The educational curriculum necessary for ordination includes classes on theology, church history, Nazarene history and polity, the doctrine of holiness, preaching, and pastoral care. There are several different ways to complete the educational requirements for ordination, including obtaining degrees from a Nazarene liberal arts college or Nazarene Theological Seminary. People can also meet these educational requirements through Nazarene Bible College or district Course of Study classes. I personally met these requirements through my ministry degree program at MidAmerica Nazarene University.
- Experience: Generally, potential ordinands need at least 3 years of full-time experience (or 4-5 years part-time experience) working in a local church setting. Even being an unpaid, part-time pastor means more than just being a regular volunteer. You have to be “assigned” by the district as a staff person (even if you aren’t paid!) and you need to be actively engaged in congregational care and ministerial preparation for 12-15 hours a week. I served 2+ years as a part-time youth group intern at my previous church, and then 2 more years as the full-time youth pastor at my current church.
- Annual Interviews with your District Ministerial Board: To me, this is the tough part of the ordination journey. Each year, you have to complete a multi-page application to renew your District License. (Smart people keep one a saved copy on their computer and just update it each year!) Then, you have to go before a panel of pastors to answer questions relating to your call, personal life, ministry, and theology. I had to do this six different times, plus my final ordination interview this year. While this is an intimidating task, I generally had positive and uplifting experiences during my annual interviews. These annual interviews are meant to be times of affirmation and encouragement by pastors that have walked this same journey before you.
I’ll be honest: at times, my ordination journey was both a blessing and a curse.
While I truly value the thoroughness of the process, I’ve also felt that I needed to “prove myself” or “say all the right answers.” While this process is meant to be affirming and life-giving, at points it was also discouraging and draining. (Admittedly, this pressure to measure up may completely be my own doing.)
In recent years, the Nazarene church has tightened up the ordination and licensing processes in an effort to retain their pastors for the long-term. While I understand the reasoning of doing this, I also felt like many of the same pastors evaluating me didn’t have to go through such a strict process. I have even heard older Nazarene pastors say, “I never had to jump through this many hoops to be ordained.” Another one of my fellow ordinands joked, “I’m just glad I never have to fill out that six-page application again!”
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe the ordination process should require dedication, effort, sacrifice, and commitment. It shouldn’t just be handed to you on a silver platter. More than anything else, the ordination process helps future ministers to embrace and actualize their call. My personal ordination journey affirmed and solidified my call from God to be in vocational ministry. In contrast, I had several classmates at MNU that thought they were called to the ministry, but through various courses and hands-on assignments, they came to realize that perhaps they had misunderstood God’s call on their lives. The ordination process helps with that clarification too. There is absolutely no shame in honestly acknowledging, “Maybe vocational ministry just isn’t for me.” It would be much better for someone to realize that early on in their ordination process than after they had been in the ministry for several painful and unfulfilled years.
In the Roman Catholic church, ordination is considered a sacrament right alongside baptism and communion. While most Protestants don’t put ordination on this same level, I firmly believe that the process and act of ordination should be sacramental, even if it is not labeled as a “sacrament.” It is an outward sign of the inward grace that God has done in your life. It is as sacred, solemn, and holy as baptism or the Eucharist. It is a lifelong commitment to the Church, a marriage to the Bride of Christ. It is a commissioning and a sending. It is both the culmination and completion of a journey, and the beginning step into ordained ministry. It is a conferring of sacred rites: the privileges of dedicating babies, baptizing congregants, welcoming new members into the community, marrying couples, discipling believers, preaching the Word, administering the Lord’s Supper, and burying the deceased.
I am forever changed by my ordination. I am called by God and confirmed by the Church.