The Baptist Minister’s License

by Robert Earl Houston

In 99.9% of all baptist ministers that I’ve ever come in contact with there are two “levels” of credentials – there is the license and the ordination. Because we are baptist, every church is autonomous and every pastor may do it differently, but across most pulpits they are still the same – the license and the ordination.

When I came up in ministry 35 years ago, licensure was not automatic. At my home church, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, licensure was never a matter for church vote (as it is in many churches), but it was a judgement call by the pastor. I preached my first sermon on April 30, 1978, however, it wasn’t until September of 1979 when Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, licensed me.  It was some years later, in December 1984, when I was ordained by Dr. Johnny Pack, IV, after serving as Co-Interim Pastor of New Hope.

There seems to be some confusion today about the Baptist Ministers’ license.  Generally speaking, a license is the church’s (or the pastor’s) approval for an individual to serve in ministry until that individual is qualified for ordination. In the black baptist church, that usually comes after the first or “trial” or “initial sermon.”  I recently attended the first sermon of a minister in Lexington and that individual was licensed, by church vote, immediately after the sermon, not preached from the pulpit, but from the floor.

I’ve been re-thinking licensure because some young ministers frankly abuse the privilege. It seems that when some individuals receive that Lifeway printed “Certificate of License” there is a change in demeanor.  I recently changed my pastoral stance and said that a minister must prove themselves and in the future I won’t grant automatic licensure or even consider the same for at least one year – there should be a “proving ground” at the church.

What many ministers don’t understand is that your license is akin to the Deacons license – which means that it’s tethered to the local church.  For example, if you’re licensed at Second Baptist Church and then you leave to join Third Baptist Church, your licensure is not transferrable (that is the call of the Third Baptist Church or their pastor). In some cases, Senior Pastors have been known to “call in” (meaning you have to return it) a license because it is not the property of the minister, it’s the property of the church – it’s that church saying “we support you and grant you opportunity to minister.”

Sadly, we’re in an age of some malfeasance in the ranks of clergy. I’m not even sure that ministers who have served under me since my pastoral ministry began in 1989 and left understand that their license is no longer valid. I personally wrestle with this issue – that I may not be able to recommend a minister who is not under my direct visual supervision – because the licensure suggests that they are still in the apprentice mode and my signature on their license is not an automatic endorsement especially if they are not fulfilling their assigned tasks or take their ministry seriously.

In most cases, a licensed minister cannot perform weddings.  In most cases, a licensed minister cannot perform funerals. In most cases, a licensed minister is not (without pastoral or board approval) allowed to speak on behalf or represent the local church. Licensure basically says this: “I am submitted to the pastor and church where I hold my membership.” Period.  However, if the pastor allows, a licensed minister can perform weddings or funerals – but only with the Pastor’s blessings.

There was a time that when a minister visited another baptist congregation that he always kept with him a full-size or pocket-sized copy of his licensure or ordination. In some cases, the pastor wouldn’t even let you into the pulpit unless you were licensed. I was amused to read recently that a minister had been “ordained” without ever being licensed or being in an apprenticeship program – to me, it seems like a disservice to the future ministry of that minister.

One big difference between licensure and ordination is examination. Generally speaking, there is no board that licenses a baptist minister; there is no public catechism in use as used in the ordination service.  However, with some of the issues that have arrived in churches lately, I would not be surprised to see some second thoughts on this procedure – and it’s realistic to expect that background checks, examinations, etc. may be on the way in generations to come.

I hope that this will cause us all to re-think the Licensure process. I know I have over twelve associates at my church and have two ministers – one under watch care and one who just announced his calling – waiting in the wings. My job as pastor is to mentor them, teach them in the hopes that they won’t be as good as I am – but that they will be better and do more.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED

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21 responses

  1. Great article, but none of these actions or procedures are from the scriptures.

    1. It’s not a doctrinal position – it’s a polity issue, for baptist churches.

    2. You are right!!!!

  2. God bless Pastor Houston,

    I was wondering if you could please give scripture references as to your stance and position in regard to licensing ministers?

    Blessings

    1. It’s not a doctrinal position – it’s a polity issue, for baptist churches.

  3. It is sad that some men/women of God assume that just because they have become licensed now the have God’s blessings to start their “own” church. For that cause, I know many pastors now refuse to ordain a minister until their is a clear and present purpose for ordination. I personally sat under my pastor’s direction for two yrs and NEVER mentioned a word about him ordaining me while the other associates whined like spoiled brats.

  4. Excellent information Pastor Houston. I was licensed on September 23, 1982. I preached my trial sermon from the floor. I was licensed was granted by vote of the congregation in church meeting and then the pastor scheduled a night for the licensing separately from the trial sermon. The pastor preached on the night that I was licensed because he wanted to preach an instructional message and he did this for nine others before me. I was licensed automatically because the pastor and church had watch my life from birth to that point. As the pastor put “we did not know when but we were waiting for him to come.” So, there are several schools of thought on this issue.

    1. And that was my point – to expose those schools of thought and suggest some uniformity.

  5. What’s interesting to me is that when a person approaches their pastor to share they feel a call to the preaching ministry, I’ve seen it whereby that person is put up the preach their trial sermon within the next 30 to 60 days. I’ve always thought this was a problem in that the person can hardly spell preach (I’m being facetious), yet they are given an opportunity to stand before God’s people and share a message in which they have not been adequately prepared to do. I believe this does a disservice to both the prospective preacher as it could possibly be a set up for failure, and the people of God who are looking to be edified in the Word of God.

    You mentioned a time in which the prospective preacher be proven and personally, I feel it’s before they get up to do their trial sermon. Since I’ve been pastoring, I’ve looked at this and decided I would spend the time in the beginning to see if they are real and sincere with their calling. I’ve learned and am learning that the call drives you to do what God has called you to do, and therefore, you will take whatever steps are necessary to fulfill that calling on your life. The associates with me do not get the opportunity to stand before God’s people until I’ve spent at least a year with them, teaching and sharing with them what this ministry is all about. This is not a “once and I’m out” kind of thing, but a lifetime commitment, not to me as the pastor, but to God who called them into ministry. This has paid dividends for me and the associate minister, and everyone walks away better for it.

    Lastly, Moses spent 40 years on the back side of the mountain before saying one word to pharaoh, and Jesus spent three years with his disciples before He sent them out.

    Thank you Pastor Houston for your words of wisdom, and this medium in which we can all dialogue and be blessed as a result of it!

  6. Licensed and ordained are both man made and designed, having become so political within the Body also creates another set of problems. If we all (both sides) would do things according to the will of GOD and not so much to the desire of ourselves maybe this would not be an issue. I do not want a congregation voting me in or out on anything that GOD has told me to do. Just as bad as when new converts come to CHRIST and some Churches vote on if they will receive the person. I see favoritism on the part of leadership as well. Some people are used, exposed, and trained because they are in the so called “circle” others are left sitting and trying to be obedient, faithful, fruitful, and positive then hurt spiritually because we select who we like and dislike versus spiritual ability and effectiveness. Back ground checks, does GOD not call and use whom HE so chooses? Today, even the qualifications for Pastor positions – JESUS nor the Apostles would not qualify for today.

    1. I think that being licensed is not a political issue – it’s a local church matter. No other ministers or churches have a thing to do with a particular minister’s licensure. (Again, this is written for a baptist church perspective – so we don’t have an ecclesiastic or denominational authority to answer to). An ASSOCIATE MINISTER is accountable – no associate minister can just do what they want to do without expecting some type of discipline from their home church. Background checks are becoming extremely important – especially when it comes to children – and some insurance carriers are beginning to mandate it. I never mentioned pastoral positions – I’m talking about associate ministers.

  7. Hello to my Brothers in the USA. In the UK, we have what we call the “national resource”. This is the Baptist Union of GB. All ministers who are recognised by BUGB are kept on a register and only theses are licensed to minister in a Baptist church in Union with the BUGB . As all Baptist Church’s are independent, it is possible for a non-accredited pastor to take up a BUGB church, but with the permission of BUGB. This is what happened to me. I was ordained and licensed in another denomination and only after three years probation and study of Baptist History and Principles was I listed as a fully accredited Pastor. This allows the church’s within BUGB to have some confidence when seeking a pastor. All legal checks have been carried out and educational rigour has been certified. This means that you will be all most sure that the prospective pastor has proved his calling, has the right character and can do the basics. No system is faultless and ours does have issues, but it seems to work to a large degree. This is true for Associate ministers, Assistant ministers and Youth Specialists. If God has called you, then you need to prove and be tested that God has in deed called you. Just read Pauls advice to Timothy. I have no problem serving an “apprenticeship” before being recognised. Fruit takes time and we all need testing. Voting is a means to an end. Before any voting takes place a lot od behind the scenes work has taken place and only serves to confirm what the Pastor/leaders already recognise. If a person is called God will make a way for ministry to be recognised.

  8. As always I love your posts. I was told when I was licensed that I was licensed to train and learn not to lead and rule. That would come in time, and only if that was the calling God had for me. The license gives you access to certain aspects of ministry but not authority to lead within the framework of the Baptist church. Another issue that ties in to this procedure is that so many Pastors are not truly equipped to mentor new ministers. This is what should be occurring between the time a call is announced thru licensing and up to ordination at a minimum. This crosses denominational lines. Not in the sense that they don’t understand them or their calling, but they are ill – equipped for the task of developing them for the calling God has for the new minister and instead force them into being mini me versions of themselves. A pastor that is so gifted and equipped can teach the younger/newer ministers to be patient, to work and to wait on their calling in such a way that it is not deemed as “holding them back” from what God has called them to do.

  9. One of the things that we as Pastors have to have a firm grip on is the KJV Bible (not the modern translations which ‘hold’ that women can be licensed for the preaching ministry), and the other is the Doctrine within the Bible. In the church I pastored, I licensed a brother for the preaching ministry, but found that he was living in sin with a woman whom he refused to marry. After counseling him, getting an assessment of the situation (turns out that she didn’t want to marry, and that she ‘claimed’ to be ‘in’ church, in another deonomination) and putting the situation into prayer, and searching the Scriptures, I gave the brother 30 days to either marry the woman, move out from the woman and into his own place and space, or his license would be revoked. He refused to comply and I had to revoke his license. The Word is the Word. Pastors can’t ‘play’ favorites regarding this issue. We’ll have to give an account to Christ at the Judgment Seat if we behave like Pharisees when it comes to granting license and ordination. Only the saved, called, qualified, and living rightly before God and man can ‘get it’. No, it wasn’t a ‘popular’ decision, but it was the right one!

  10. Good material. I will be using some of it in my teaching.

  11. Rev. Keith Gardner | Reply

    Question? What would be considered grounds for revoking a license and What would be grounds for revoking an ordination?

    1. Rev. Gardner, that is really dependent (since Baptist Churches are sovereign unto themselves) on the rules of conduct and the Pastor’s teaching on the matter. I can’t give you a direct answer – that would have to depend upon that local congregation.

  12. well i am a minister and I recently told my pastor that i was not being fed spiritually and i wanted to resign from church first thing he said is i have to take your license! I dont get it

  13. Rev. Keith Gardner | Reply

    Minister Marcus.
    First, I am sorry that you were not being fed spiritually. I am confused when you said I wanted to resign from church? Was that to leave that church to go to another where you could be fed ? or was that to leave church? However, the reason that your pastor requested the license back is because is signature is on the license, which states that he was in cooperation with the church, agreed that you were called by God to preach the Gospel, endorsed your call. In essence, he was taking precaution against whatever you do or decide to do once you left that church membership. The bottom line is that God, the church and the pastor’s name and reputation is on the line.

  14. Can you help explain (or point me to a resource to help me understand) the connection between licensing and ministerial housing allowance if, in fact, there is one? I am concerned that since I was licensed locally at a church in California but have since moved to minister with a church in Texas, I am not “qualified” in the eyes of the government to receive my housing allowance. I was under the impression i would need to be licensed again by this local church here in Texas, but after asking that question, I was advised by both the lead and executive pastors that it wasn’t necessary.

    1. It is my understanding that you are NOT eligible for a housing allowance unless you are on payroll as the Pastor or Senior Pastor or full-time in ministry. Licensing is up to the discretion of the local church.

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THE WIRE

by Pastor Robert Earl Houston

H.B. Charles Jr.

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