After a lifetime in the church, I still struggle with answering, “What is ordination for?”. As a child, it was clear the role of a pastor and its precedence in the community.
He was there during the hardest and brightest family times, for weddings and funerals, to counsel and motivate, to encourage and rebuke. It was a much needed role for my family, and I still value the importance of the traditional pastoral role. Times are a little different now.
People can go online and print a certificate legitimizing themselves as a pastor within seconds and perform weddings. This is not what I was familiar with, and people are getting into trouble for taking legal shortcuts.
People don’t get the accountability, direction, community, hospitality, or example of Christ that the Bible clearly demands of Christian leaders, and I’d venture to say that other religious leaders may feel this way also.
There’s so many varying processes and reasons why ordination is necessary. In this article, I want to highlight for you:
- When ordination is necessary
- When ordination is not necessary
- Stats and facts about ordination
- A brief history of why this phenomenon ever came to being
- and, some things to watch out for if you’re considering acquiring an ordination
According to Bible Study Tools, the term “ordination” has several implications. There are words in the Bible that can be translated consistently to mean “ordain”.
The phrases that are synonymous with ordination are:
1. To set in order, arrange, or prepare (Based on scriptures as Psalms 132:17, Isaiah 30:33, and Hebrews 9:6) You can see how the term was used in Psalm 132:17: “There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed.”
2. To establish, institute, or bring into being (Based on scriptures as 1 Kings 12:32, Numbers 28:6, and Psalms 8:2-3)
3. To decree, give orders, or prescribe (Based on scriptures as Esther 9:27 or Acts 16:4)
4. To set apart for an office or duty, appoint, destine (Based on Mark 3:15 and 2 Chronicles 11:15)
5. To appoint to a ministerial office (Based on Mark 3:14 and John 15:16)
A Brief History of Ordination
Ordination has been a process that was taken seriously, similar to a high school graduation or college graduation. It was a protected process with requirements and after the requirements are met, a ceremony would culminate that would render proof that the requirements have been met.
Ordination Facts and Stats
- There are many different denominations in most religions
- A denomination is a segmented group of people who have correlating viewpoints on a religious text
- Denominations have different ordination requirements
- Ministry ordinations and ministry licensing is different
Here’s a graph that shows some perspective on how many people are ordained in various Christian denominations:
Nowadays, the process of ordination has become grossly watered down. The biblical meaning of ordination as a process to bestow an office is now simply the process of printing a certificate. When you search for “ordination certificates”, there are several DIY and easy access options to obtain “ordination”.
Online Ordination Scams
Unfortunately, many of the easy ordination options are online ordination scams. They take your money or associate your name with their reputation and don’t generate the return an “ordination” biblically signifies. You can always tell an online ordination scam because they…
1. Don’t Train
Online ordination scams often give you a certificate in exchange for money, but don’t offer you any training. Since the decline of people attending traditional church models has went up, church membership is down, and fewer people are being married by pastors.
When something arises like a wedding or a funeral, they scramble to find someone who will simply and quickly perform the ceremony, so sometimes, they ask a loved one who will get onto a website like Universal Life Church, and print a ministry ordination certificate.
The person receives no training. They may or may not be married themselves. The couple may not have accountability or direction as they navigate common issues that newlyweds experience, and this loophole contributes to the high rates of divorce in the U.S.
The same lack of counsel, direction, and pastoral care can happen in funerals or in family crises also. In my opinion, marriage is treated like fast food. “You can grab what you want and throw it away when you’re done.” These online ordination companies are providing a “certificate”, but it’s value is only the piece of paper. Biblically, ordination was supposed to have a greater connotation than a simple piece of paper.
2. Don’t Provide Accountability or Mentorship
The online ordination scams provide no accountability, and likely no standard. In many cases, you can be any religion, they don’t confirm your character or behavior.
Ministers can boldly and obviously live a life that opposes the biblical standard, but the online ordination scams are simply after the money. They don’t care if the person is living in sin or living in a completely different religion. The lack of a standard can be confusing for someone who is seeking a “minister” and associates the “ordination” with biblical qualification.
3. There’s no Marketing or Networking Advantage
Many organizations that provide legitimate ordinations, also provide a marketing or networking advantage. They may have a network of pastors and congregants who are familiar with their brand, so when you become a minister in their “network”, you can have the networking advantage of getting advice from seasoned ministers, collaboration opportunities, and opportunities to be found because they may help give direction on local marketing. With online ordination scams, there’s no added marketing or networking advantage for becoming a part of their network of ministers.
4. They don’t Pray with you or Provide Consultation thru Leadership Issues
The Bible showed the process of equipping and discipleship that went along with being sent out as a ministry leader. Now, there are two extremes that are inhibiting people from being able to go into ministry when they feel called:
1. Too many pastors are worried about having a big platform or brand
Some pastors are concerned about being the “superstar”, so they don’t teach others how to disciple, train, and minister in independent organizations. It’s important to follow the great commission precisely and:
1) Make disciples
2) Baptize them
3) Teach them to obey the commandments
When leaders have went thru discipleship, it’s also important to train them on how to lead an organization, and send them out. It’s not always best to have one big organization with tens and hundreds of leaders populating one small territory because it can stall outreach.
2. Too many ministry organizations are not providing prayer and leadership consultation to teach people with a heart to start or scale ministries how to do it.
Added onto that, many people who have a heart to start or scale ministries are failing because they’re not being trained and equipped to get funding, make a plan, or build the leadership abilities they need to transcend the normal growth stages.
Can Online Ordinations Work?
Even with all that said, online ordinations can work, however, as the recipient, you have to decide what are your reasons for wanting the ordination in the first place. If you simply want to effectively minister the gospel, an ordination is not required.
In fact, you can start a church website, build the traffic to the website, and have a church online. With a church online, you can begin ministering to a growing number of internet users. With 4 billion internet users, a website and some internet marketing skills can make a ministry that reaches millions (or even billions) of people–a much wider impact than what can be done thru a local church.
What is Ordination for From a Legal Standpoint?
From a legal standpoint, ordination enables certain legal ceremonies to be performed. Most state marriage laws require ordination to perform a wedding and in many instances, there are ordination requirements for a funeral also. If you wanted to be able to go into hospital rooms where people are on life support, there may be even more requirements than an ordination. You’d have to check the specific organizations out and find out their requirements.
What is Ordination for From a Spiritual Standpoint?
For some denominations, you’re not able to baptize or perform “sacred rites” without a formal ordination process. If you want to be ordained so you can perform certain rites and rituals, you’d want to take a look at the requirements for your denomination. Here’s a list of major denominations, their websites, and ordination requirements HERE.
How To Create a Legally Recognized Ordination Program in Your Ministry?
Another viable option for becoming ordained and ordaining ministers in your organization is to create an internal ordination program. Many churches have created their own internal processes to ordain ministers, pastors, and deacons within their ministries, and it doesn’t require a tenure for you to establish one in your ministry.
When you create an internal program, you don’t have to worry about the court revoking your ordinations like what happened with Cramer vs. Commonwealth–a court hearing that revoked the ordinations of ministers ordained thru Universal Life Church.
According to StartChurch, a legal consulting organization for churches, there are 10 steps to create a legally recognized ordination program in your ministry that can enable you to become ordained yourself. The 10 steps are:
- Make sure all of your corporate documents including your bylaws, board meeting minutes, and even your articles of incorporation have language stating your intention to create an internal ordination process.
- Create a criteria that needs to be met by all applicants. For example: a training program, on-the-job training, volunteer work, leadership experience, or whatever your boardmembers believe would reflect is consistent with biblical ministry leadership.
- Require an application fee
- Require an exam and create a minimal passing score.
- Establish a formal process of commissioning. For example, a ceremony, presentation before witnesses, laying on of hands, etc.
- Assign an expiration or renewal date
- Create a renewal process
- Keep good records of all ordained ministers: active, inactive, and revoked.
- Be clear that their ministry role is consistent with the church’s mission.
- Make sure the members maintain a relationship with the ordaining organization by attending events, participating in mentorship, etc.
Final Words answering “What is Ordination for?”
The goal of this article was to answer the question, “What is ordination for?”. There are so many different requirements, standards, and levels of value for “ordination”, it can be very confusing. If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section. I’d love to help you out!
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Now, it’s Your Turn…
Have you gotten ordained? What process did you go thru? Do you get training, accountability, or a marketing advantage from being ordained? What advice would you give someone considering ordination? Leave your comments, questions, and feedback below.