by Terry M. Smith
LORETTE, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial on Nov. 23, 2018, was led briefly by Brian Reimer, discussed ordination within Scripture, heard stories of “the joy and burden of ordination,” learned of a new process proposed for ordination, and ended with a sharing of ministry joys and concerns. And, in a day devoted to a discussion of ordination, a continuing issue raised was how this related to women.
Richard Klassen, BLO chair, welcomed ministerial members. Pastor Brian Reimer, of the host Prairie Grove congregation, read Scriptures from both Testaments interspersed with congregational singing. He highlighted those serving in music ministry on this morning because they were young people who persevered through a tough period in the congregation’s history. Richard Klassen said that there was no better music than when a group of church leaders join in song.
Ordination in the Bible
Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) said ordination is practiced among denominations of different views. Within the EMC ordination is both an act of the local church and the conference; the conference also practices commissioning for a definite period and task. Affirmation in service is needed by the BLO or the BOM.
In AD 235 Fabian was elected bishop when a dove sat on his head; today, if we were to take off the roofs of churches and let the Lord do his work, Layton Friesen would have the best shot, he said.
There is no prescriptive designation of ordination in Scripture, and so some people set it aside, Ward said, but Scripture has descriptions of it, obedience requires ordination, and Scripture lists requirements. In a survey of Scripture, Ward listed the ordination of Aaron (Ex. 29:9), the Levites (Num. 8), and the 70 elders (Num. 11); the transfer of priestly authority from Aaron to Eleazar (Num. 20:25-27); and the commissioning of Joshua (Num. 27:18-20).
In the New Testament Jesus is the High Priest, our Mediator, who has opened a new and living way. All are priests, yet leadership is needed. The Twelve chose Matthias by lot (Acts 1), had authority, but there’s mention of them appointing successors. The seven are appointed (Acts 6) with no mention of them being deacons; the ministries of Stephen and Philip seem more apostolic. Barnabas and Saul are set apart to serve as missionaries (Acts 13), and they appointed elders in each church (Acts 14).
A companion is chosen to accompany Titus (2 Cor. 8:19). Gifts are given for church’s edification (Eph. 4:11). The Pastoral letters have more on appointing or ordaining leaders: there is the laying of hands and perhaps prophecy. The effect is binding, not casual, with no room for carelessness. The church is not to ordain without testing (1 Tim. 5:22). In Timothy’s ordination, Paul laid hands on him and a divine gift is mentioned that Timothy is to keep burning (2 Tim. 1:6). Paul left Titus to appoint elders in Crete (Titus 1:5); and the lists of qualities in an elder (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3:1-7) combine the needs of good character and sound doctrine. There is a need to entrust the teaching of the gospel to reliable men (2 Tim. 2:2).
In NT times there was little distinction between an elder (respected, perhaps older person) and a bishop, but Cyprian in the third century AD saw bishops as the successors of the apostles and the hierarchy became entrenched. The Reformation saw a priestly role rejected in favour of the pastoral, with education and doctrine having priorities.
Ordination is more than a human rite; it is an equipping through the laying of hands and a role that is a gift of God, Ward said. Leaders are selected by congregation or appointment with neither less biblical. There is to be testing of study, doctrine, reputation and character. The setting apart is a life-long process. Eugene Petersen says we are “lashed to the mast”; not that you have it, but that He has you. The laying on of hands is common and confers something, though the meaning is unclear.
Stories of the Joy and Burden of Ordination
Four ministers shared their thoughts on being ordained.
When Frank D. Reimer resigned at Prairie Rose and an expected successor withdrew, he became the next logical candidate who was elected before he, too, resigned. Edwin served for decades. Was he called? Moses resisted until God told him to “Shut up,” pack his bags, and go to Egypt. He was set apart as spiritual leader with a responsibility to preach the Word, which he accepted. He learned that his time had to be flexible, had to adjust from moving from being teacher to a pastor (and living on a pastor’s salary), and accepted counsel not to neglect his family. He will never forgot how he was installed as pastor in the morning and officiated at his first funeral in the afternoon.
He has served 20 years in the EMC (Stony Brook) amid a sense of inadequacy that has kept him reliant on the Lord. His journey has taken him through an EMB church plant, training, and a call to a Baptist church; a mentor helped him prepare for ordination. He didn’t feel worthy, but if God was in this, he was prepared to carry on. There is not a lot of biblical support for ordination, for “pomp and ceremonies” and “diplomas.” He doesn’t know the significance of ordination and doesn’t use “Reverend” except when writing to a court where it makes a difference. Being ordained has helped him in difficult times to be reminded that pastoral ministry is more than a job; it’s a calling in which he was set apart. The authority of a pastor doesn’t come with the position, but is a voluntary submission.
Vern (Riverton) was in grade nine when God laid it on his heart to be a pastor. Influential in his connecting with the EMC were his wife Lana’s Pelly link and conference pastor David Thiessen. Crestview wanted an ordained person, but he asked it to hold off on ordination for a year or so. Ordination later happened. It reminds him that he is part of something bigger, and the sense of calling holds him in tough times so he don’t leave when it gets hot.
He is concerned about training—too little and, on the other hand, burnout from too many demands. Jude 20-23 is a key passage for his ministry, summing up pastoral work as gritty, but with a huge amount of blessing. He loves that the Lord has called him to this and at times he “would give it away for a nickel.”
Now a church planter for the EMC in Ste. Agathe, Man., Dick said he had been commissioned at Rosenort EMC as a youth pastor where it was suggested that he pursue ordination at some time. When he looked at the paperwork involved, he didn’t see it really affecting what he was doing in ministry. It’s been a four-year process of working through the required reading; the point, short answer, and essay questions; and other portions. He has struggled to pursue ordination because he has been waiting for the church to call or select him.
Ordination means to set apart for a particular responsibility for leading and serving Christ’s bride, the Church. It signifies a formal recognition of someone who’s following the Lord in an example that others should imitate. What difference would ordination make for him? It represents the affirmation of the church and helps develop a deepening sense of responsibility for the Church. How can the church take on more responsibility for ordination?
Looking at How We Ordain People
Layton Friesen said that the BLO heard calls from the church to strengthen and enhance ordination within the EMC. A proposal was sent, discussion will occur, changes might happen, and a decision will be made in July 2019. Verbally and in a written document the proposed process was outlined.
Rather than a “pass the exam” process, there will be a seven-month (Oct.-April) ordination course where ordinands become a cohort (a unit) of leaders who will meet together (online or in person) during this period.
A required set of readings and written reflections will relate to skills, theology, history, spirituality and character. A pastor in the region will serve as a mentor and the conference pastor and church planting director will host periodic forums online with the cohort. The candidate and mentor will spend months preparing a theological questionnaire. Only those affirmed by the mentor will proceed to ordination. The cohort will be examined together in a retreat in May where the examination committee can respond to each candidate with an unqualified assent, qualified assent, or dissent.
The BLO feels that it should no longer exam or ordain deacons because their role has changed in most churches. Teaching scripture and doctrine is no longer a central to it, and most churches have moved to terms from life callings.
Instead, EMC orientation evenings for deacons should be held. Deacons would not form part of the EMC ministerial (unless they have already been ordained and then their role would continue). All deacons would be welcome at the ministerial retreat. If a church wants a deacon to teach and discern about doctrine, it can seek their ordination and the new cohort process would apply to such candidates as well.
There are some positions (parachurch, college professors, or chaplains) where ordination can be pursued without the place of service being directly in a local church. If a minister no longer serves an EMC congregation, their ordination would become inactive after one year; they are not “defrocked” and their ordination can be reactivated at the request of an EMC church.
There was considerable discussion throughout the day. On the proposed new process of ordination, here is some of the feedback.
If the mentor doesn’t approve a candidate, what recourse does the candidate have if they disagree? [Unclear.]
The current ordination process seemed strangely isolating and lonely. A cohort is better.
Uncomfortable with the key push being theological. [How do we test for character and integrity? Mentor and congregation will help.]
Is there room for an ordinand to have input on the selection of a mentor? [Yes.]
Include the church in the process more; the pastor should be the mentor. [The pastor will be a mentor, but an outside mentor is also needed.]
Lots of people fall between the cracks because the local church fails to initiate. Nudge the BLO to work with the church. [Needs to be a both/and.]
What is the educational requirement to be ordained? [None yet. What should be the requirement?]
Needs to be more “bite” on the process or transfer of ordination. Those who resist it need it the most.
Some modification is needed for churches who already have a preaching team and minister-in-training process already in place. [Agreed.]
Like the process. Big part of leadership development is relationship. Another mentor pouring in is great.
Sharing of Ministry Joys and Concerns
There was a time for sharing of joys and concerns and prayer together.