We recommend, That the following statement be adopted as a guide in the ordination of ministers:
The setting apart of men for the sacred work of the ministry should be regarded as one of the most vital concerns of the church. The spiritual growth of God's people, their development in the virtues of Christ, as well as their relationship to one another as members of His body, are all closely bound up with and in many respects dependent upon the spirituality, efficiency, and consecration of those who minister in Christ's stead.
The mind of the Lord concerning the qualifications for the ministry is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Anciently the minister was known as the "the man of God," sometimes "the man of the Spirit." Detailed instructions were given to Moses concerning the qualifications of the priesthood: the priest's dress, his demeanor, his spiritual understanding being emphasized. Then, in order to keep continually before the congregation the high calling of those who served in the tabernacle, the high priest wore on his miter the words "Holiness unto the Lord."
In the New Testament the picture is just as clear. The apostle Paul speaks of himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1). This matter of separation to the ministry was made very clear to him by the Lord Himself when, appearing to him on the Damascus road, He said, "I have appeared unto thee . . . to make thee a minister . . . ; delivering thee from the people, . . . unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:16-18). He was delivered or separated from the people, and then, as the anointed representative of God, he was sent back to the people to be God's mouthpiece and to open their eyes to the glories of the gospel. Later, in writing of the work of the minister, he spoke of it as a "high calling."
The Spirit of prophecy says:
"A man can have no greater honor than to be accepted by God as an able minister of the gospel."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 328.
In the Hebrew Epistle we read, "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God" (Heb. 5:4).
The proofs of a man's divine call must be clearly evident before the church sets him apart by ordination.
"Ministers should be examined especially to see if they have an intelligent understanding of the truth for this time, so that they can give a connected discourse upon the prophecies or upon practical subjects. If they cannot clearly present Bible subjects, they need to be hearers and learners still. In order to be teachers of Bible truth, they should earnestly and prayerfully search the Scriptures, and become conversant with them. All these things should be carefully and prayerfully considered before men are sent into the field of labor."—Gospel Workers, p. 439.
"A true minister does the work of the Master. He feels the importance of his work, realizing that he sustains to the church and to the world a relation similar to that which Christ sustained. . . . Those who hear him know that he has drawn near to God in fervent, effectual prayer. The Holy Spirit has rested upon him, his soul has felt the vital, heavenly fire, and he is able to compare spiritual things with spiritual. . . . Hearts are broken by his presentation of the love of God, and many are led to inquire, 'What must I do to be saved?' "—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 329.
"The conversion of sinners and their sanctification through the truth is the strongest proof a minister can have that God has called him to the ministry. The evidence of his apostleship is written upon the hearts of those converted, and is witnessed to by their renewed lives. . . . A minister is greatly strengthened by these seals of his ministry."—Ibid., p. 328.
For such work a man must indeed be called of God and give clear evidence of his call.
Concerning the examination of ministerial candidates, the Lord's counsel to us is clear:
"There has been too little done in examining ministers; and for this very reason churches have had the labors of unconverted, inefficient men, who have lulled the members to sleep, instead of awakening them to greater zeal and earnestness in the cause of God. There are ministers who come to the prayer-meeting, and pray the same old, lifeless prayers over and over; they preach the same dry discourses from week to week and from month to month. . . . The only way in which we can correct this wide-spread evil, is to examine closely everyone who would become a teacher of the Word. Those upon whom this responsibility rests, should acquaint themselves with his history since he professed to believe the truth. His Christian experience and his knowledge of the Scriptures, the way in which he holds present truth, should all be understood. No one should be accepted as a laborer in the cause of God, until he makes it manifest that he has a real, living experience in the things of God."—Gospel Workers, pp. 437, 438.
This counsel lays a definite obligation upon the leaders in charge of an ordination service. They should plan for the examination of candidates in such a way that this important procedure shall not be simply perfunctory but give opportunity for a true evaluation of the candidate's fitness. Sufficient time should be made available, particularly in cases where a number of candidates are to be examined. Wherever possible the candidate should plan to have his wife present for the examination, realizing that ordination affects not only the individual but the entire family.
Undue haste has sometimes been apparent in recommending candidates for ordination. On the other hand there has also been undue delay, extending as long as twenty years and more. Both these attitudes are wrong. While no worker should be hurried into ordination, yet it is just as important that when one is ready to be thus set apart, the service should not be unduly delayed. Embarrassment has been brought to workers at times because of being unable to perform certain important ministerial responsibilities. The fact, however, that a ministerial trainee has spent four, five, or even eight years in the field is of itself no guarantee that he is ready for ordination. One with less ability for evangelistic preaching or who reveals less aptitude than some for other lines of ministerial and pastoral work will naturally take longer to develop. Indeed, some may never qualify for ordination. Those who do not reveal particular ministerial talent and aptitude for definite public leadership should be encouraged to develop as personal soul winners, recognizing that their call is to some other work less distinctly ministerial.
Conference and mission presidents and executive committees should recognize a definite responsibility to foster the growth of younger ministers and should see to it that such are given opportunities where they may develop to their full ministerial capacity. Any plan that diverts the minister-to-be from his actual training and growth is to be discouraged. Injustices have been perpetrated at times when ministerial trainees possessing manual skills have been asked to spend long periods serving in other capacities to the neglect of their ministerial development. Such a plan may save the conference money, but it delays the development of the minister.
When a conference gives a young man a ministerial license it should be recognized as a pledge on the part of the conference leadership to foster that worker's growth. And when one accepts a ministerial license he should regard it as a pledge on his part to render the utmost service of which he is capable. Such a license, however, is not a commitment on the part of a conference that ultimate ordination is assured. It merely provides the opportunity for the licentiate to prove his calling. While all cannot have the same conditions under which to develop into mature ministers, yet one who is called of God will reveal his calling by his whole manner of life and the burden he carries for those who are still in the prison house of sin. Under some circumstances it is difficult to provide conditions where public evangelism as such can be carried out, but he who is called of the Lord will be able to give proof of his calling and of his aptness for the ministry as a lifework.
In some areas of the world field educational facilities are somewhat limited. If that be the case, it will naturally take longer for a minister to develop his readiness for ordination. Therefore, in consideration of all the varied conditions, it is impossible to specify any definite length of time for the training period of the licentiate. The fact that a licensed minister is assigned to overseas service should not of itself delay his ordination beyond the time it would have taken place had he remained in the homeland. His service record should be passed along to the new field and receive proper evaluation in the recognition of his development. In suitable cases a licensed minister who is approaching ordination at the time of his foreign call may be ordained prior to departure.
Before hands of ordination are laid upon a worker he should have given proof of:
- Experience in various types of ministerial responsibility.
- Definite call to the ministry as a lifework.
- Entire consecration of body, soul, and spirit.
- Spiritual stability.
- Social maturity.
- Clear understanding of the Word of God.
- Aptness as a teacher of truth.
- Ability to lead souls from sin into holiness.
- Fruitage in souls won to Christ.
- A cooperative attitude and confidence in the organization and functioning of the church.
- A life of consistent, exemplary Christian conduct.
- An exemplary family.
Ordination of men who have not given clear evidence of their call as soul-saving ministers must be avoided. It will always be true that some men, having been trained for lines of work other than that of the ministry, will in time give proof of their divine call to this sacred work, and the church, recognizing this, will feel called to set them apart by ordination. But such cases will certainly be exceptions. Because one holds a responsible position in the organized work, it must not be considered that he is by that fact alone eligible for ordination.
There are certain lines of work in the denomination that are not regarded as strictly ministerial, but which provide experience for some ministerial development. A college president, for example, or the principal of an academy, with young people under his care, bears the responsibility not only of their academic training but also their spiritual welfare. He is, therefore, in a sense their pastor, and in association with the Bible teacher is doing actual ministerial work. However, his call to that responsibility is not of itself a basis for ordination. No man's position in this cause, per se, should influence a committee to set him apart to the holy work of the ministry unless, and until, he gives definite proof of his aptitude and his spiritual maturity, and has a conviction in his own soul that God has called him to the ministry as a lifework.
Workers in other capacities such as editors, secretary-treasurers of conferences, and departmental leaders may also come to the place in their service where ordination is appropriate; however, in these cases, as in every other, the divine call to the ministry must be clear, before the church, acting as God's representative, separates them to the gospel ministry. Such workers, like all candidates for ministerial credentials, should have the personal conviction that God has called them to the ministry, give evidence of the ministerial call and gift, and be known widely for their piety and ability as soul winners, before their ordination is recommended and decided.
Ordination must never become simply a reward for faithful service or be considered as an opportunity to add title and prestige to a worker. Neither is it an honor to be sought by the individual, or by his family or his friends on his behalf. Such attitudes and tactics seriously minimize the sacredness of the ministry in the eyes of the church.
The ministry is not merely a profession; it is a calling. It is not for a period of time until some other more attractive occupation beckons a man, but it is a lifework. Having put his hand to the plow, one is not free to look backward except at the peril of his soul. The apostle Paul, like the prophets of old, felt himself "under bonds" and he cried out, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). One who is ordained to the sacred work of the ministry should feel the same responsibility as the apostle of old. And the conference that employs him should feel a definite responsibility to see that he is free to do his God-appointed work.
The simple record of the ordination of the apostles is impressive. "And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (Mark 3:13, 14). The first office of one ordained to the ministry is that he should be with God. Only then is he qualified to go forth to men to preach the Word of God. One who is thus consecrated and who enjoys constant communion with his Lord will rejoice in the privilege of rendering complete service, refusing to be entangled in business for personal gain and other things of this world, that he may, by the grace of God, give complete devotion to the cause he loves. Even when he reaches his retirement years he should feel the call of God to the same standard of life as he did in his most active years, "that the ministry be not blamed" (2 Cor. 6:3).