This will be about ordination…eventually. But it starts with a story.
There is often nothing “Standard” about ministry in the Northeast, the land of my nativity.
I often meet many people with very “non-standard” beliefs, basically an alleged belief system that makes you scratch your head and wonder if they’re joking with you. For example, I could mention the guy that wanted to start a church-commune in which all the congregants lounge on the floor and talk about Jesus together and live outside the building. Creepy. Or the guy that believes he became a Christian while getting high and saw a vision of Jesus shaking his head at him. Pretty sure a one-ended stick makes more sense. Or the guy that believes Jesus is a skin-changer and still walks around today posing as different people. Shall I keep going?
I recently spoke with a man who upon hearing I was a pastor said, “I’m an ordained minister too!” I prodded a little further. As it turns out, the man obtained an "Ordination Certificate” for free online in under three minutes in order to be part of a sect of weed-worshippers who believe god is an alien and we’re his offspring. I actually had to pause to wait for him to say, “Just kidding”. He didn’t.
I rather forthrightly told him, “I’m sorry, but that ordination isn’t real, and there are some problems with your belief system.” We had a long conversation about what the true Gospel is and who Christ is and ultimately parted cordially but unresolved. God only knows what will come of it. Regarding his alleged ordination, I asked him, “What if I told you I’m a licensed Electrician (the man is one) but that I got my license for free online”? I asked if he would consider me legitimate and he said, “No”. He was correct.
Perhaps I’m alone on this, but I find it particularly maddening that people think ordination is something that can be legitimately obtained online and that its only purpose is to be able to officiate weddings. I am not a Bible college graduate. I didn’t go to seminary. However, I was trained in a local church and have been essentially training for ministry since I was a child without knowing I’d be in ministry someday. So, without the usual formal channels of culturally accepted ministry credentialing, I really latched on to the idea of ordination. I was ordained in 2013.
For me, my ordination became my proving ground. Frankly, it is the ONLY needed proving ground in my opinion. As a disclaimer, no, I’m not opposed to going to college or seminary if one wants to. If you need it, do it.
My ordination was very different from every ordination I have ever seen. The one’s I’d witnessed in the past were very, shall we say, unprepared. The candidate was often placed alone on the platform while pastors and even church members were encouraged to ask the candidate whatever popped in their heads to ask. Often they’d ask intentionally subversive questions. The ceremony was usually scheduled to follow the questioning, basically leaving no possibility that the candidate might not pass.
Let me tell you about my ordination. For three years prior to it, I met regularly with my pastors who studied many heavy and important theological and practical issues with me. We read through books out loud together. I was free to ask questions about anything as much as I wanted. Many important discussions happened in that room. I was even given weekly multiple question essay tests. I also had to write a paper once. There were no grades given. Only discussion and discipleship. I was given many opportunities to preach/teach, lead congregational singing, and a few other things.
The council questioning was not scheduled the day of the ceremony but about a week prior to allow the council time to think about approving me or not. Admittedly though, they approved me right after the questioning, but that’s not a testament to me as much as it is to all of them and their experience and grace.
There were eleven or twelve veteran pastors from around the midwest involved, each of which in advance was assigned by the host pastor 2-3 topics of theology as well as a series of practical counseling matters to question me about. I was seated at the end of a long conference table, the host pastor at the other end.
One-by-one the men asked me their prepared questions, sometimes asked me to explain my conclusions further and offer more Biblical support, and sometimes discussed my answers with each other around the table. Not all of them agreed on every matter, but they didn’t seem to be looking for total consensus but rather gifts, calling, and for my ability to reason with scripture. The questioning took about eight hours with a break for lunch in the middle. About a week later, the council recommended to my local church to ordain me to Gospel ministry, which they did.
It dawned on me as I was talking with the Weed-worshipping “minister” last week that people today just don’t know what ordination is. People today know so pathetically little about the Bible that they can’t even imagine what would be so hard about the proving process. One guy who was listening in to our conversation asked me about my ordination. When I told him it took eight hours of questioning, he cocked his head and asked, “About what”?!
It’s like years ago when my cousin heard I graduated from Radiology school, he couldn’t believe it took as long as it did because “there are only two-hundred-six bones in the human body.” He didn’t realize just how intricate the whole science is, but instead thought it’s just like using a point and shoot camera. It would be like me wondering why Electricians need to be licensed because all they do is stick wires into things. People don’t know what they don’t know.
That process of ordination was precious to me. It’s kind of like my credential since I don’t have the Bible College diploma on the wall, which is arguably not as important. It was not without great effort and it means a lot to me that those preachers as well as all the people of my sending church decided, “We can get behind this guy”. The approval and moral support of all of them means the world to me because I respect each of them highly. It would crush my spirit to not have them behind me.
I didn’t get ordained free online, and right or wrong I don’t particularly care for when people cheapen it.
Additional Resource: Reason Together Podcast episode 025 Free Same-Day Ordination…