by Robert Earl Houston
Recently I entered into a discussion on Facebook in regards to ordination. It was a friendly discussion and it has been on my mind for several days. Ordination is one of those “high holy days” in the life of a minister who has surrendered his or her self to the call of the Lord. In most baptist churches, it is one of the few services that can draw together a minister’s past, present and future, and is normally a standing room only affair, depending upon the church and pastor’s level of involvement in the planning.
I was in the early stages of the ordination process in 1984 under my father in the ministry, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. When his pastorate ended in May of that year, me and my brother in the minister, Rev. Walter Monroe Brown, Jr. shared as Co-Interim Pastors of New Hope until they selected a pastor. I preached on first and third Sundays. Walter preached on second and fourth. We alternated on fifth Sundays and yielded the pulpit (gladly) when candidates were brought in to preach.
In November the church called Dr. Johnny Pack, IV of Texarkana, Arkansas as the pastor and also, upon his recommendation, voted to ordain us as Ministers of the Gospel. Under Dr. Devers, he had given us a catechism of some 900 questions, however, Dr. Pack had a different philosophy about ordination which I share today. You don’t go through the process to obtain knowledge, you go through the process because of what you already know.
I have a few things I want to say to ministers who are beginning their ministry or have their eyes on ordination or may find themselves frustrated because they haven’t been ordained yet:
#1 – Trust Your Pastor. If your pastor doesn’t feel you’re ready for ordination yet, he’s (or she’s) probably on sound ground for doing so. The pastor is like the baseball manager. Every other sport calls their leader a coach, in baseball they are managers. They are called so because of the multiplicity of involvements that they have with the team both on and off the field. The Pastor is the manager of the church and pulpit. He may observe some things in you, in your character, in your potential that you may not see. Give him the necessary space and trust to make the decision about your ordination and allow the Holy Spirit to speak through him when it’s your time.
#2 – Put Ordination in its Perspective. Ordination is not the crowning point of a minister’s life. It’s not the apex. It really is the validation of what has been, what is now, and what will be. Really, you would think that the Ordination should be called the “Licensing” (Baptist nomaclature) because it has the power of saying that this church and pastor believes and authenticates to the world your calling to the gospel ministry. I never worked in the ministry to get ordained. Ordination should not carry that kind of weight in your ministry. Ordination should be the commencement and not the graduation. It should encourage you to continue and not make you retire from your labors.
#3 – Use It Wisely. Here’s what ordination (as to what I’ve been taught) allows you to do. First, it allows you to “handle” the sacred sacraments of the church – communion and baptism. Secondly, it allows you (depending on the state) to officiate at weddings and funerals (in many places, only a letter of authorization from a church is necessary). Back in the day at a funeral, the minister would sign for the interment of the body in some places in the country. Thirdly, it allows you to use (legitimately) the title “Reverend.” It’s a level of legitimacy that shouldn’t be abused.
Don’t abuse the ordination by handling yourself with a degree of disgrace instead of dignity. Don’t abuse the ordination by offering ordination to others as if it’s a prize at a church raffle. Don’t abuse the ordination by becoming caught up into your title instead of your ministry. Don’t abuse the ordination by using it to create dissension in the ranks of other associate ministers. Don’t abuse the ordination by questionable conduct and undue grandeur. Don’t abuse the ordination by preaching liquid sermons that develop starving listeners.
I’ve now been an ordained minister for some 29 years and will be celebrating my 30th year of ordination, Lord willing, next year. A young preacher walked up to the venerable Dr. Gardner Calvin Taylor and said, “Reverend Taylor, what should I as a young preacher be preparing to do with my life?” Dr. Taylor, with the years of ministry written across the lines within his countenance smiled and said . . .
“Live to become an old preacher.”