Rise of the twenty dollar ordination

“Pastor, I just got ordained online for $20 so I can do my best friend’s wedding. What do you think?”

What is ordination? Is it important anymore? In Scripture, the offices of church leadership such as pastor, teacher, evangelist are regarded as spiritual gifts of God (Ephesians 4:11-12). One does not aspire to these positions based on personal interest instead, God calls individuals to fulfill these roles in the mission of the church.

This gifting and calling by God is discerned and recognized by the church. The church then authorizes these people for formal leadership in the church. It’s this process that Paul alludes to in 1 Timothy 4:14, “Do not neglect the gift you have which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” Paul’s writings contain lists of qualifications for deacons, elders and bishops. There are many variations among Christian churches today but all of them understand ordination as having three basic elements: God’s call to service, Holy Spirit gifts for leadership and the formal discernment and recognition by the church.

In the Methodist tradition ordination requires

  • Graduate level theological education

  • Psychological assessment

  • 3 years of supervised probationary experience

  • 3 levels of major interviews:

  • With the Lay people of their local church

  • With the lay and clergy of their district

  • With the lay and clergy of the Annual Conference.

Popular views of ordination have changed dramatically in just the last 40 years. This is probably related to the significant decline in the trust level of pastors. In 1985 a whopping 67% of Americans had a high degree of trust in the ethical integrity of clergy. Today that figure is only 40%. Ordination is clearly viewed by many people as a consumer item--a commodity like anything else on the shelf at Meijer or Costco. If you want it, buy it. There’s no God, no spiritual gifts and no church involved. In this view ordination is a personal transaction not unlike purchasing a dog license. To be fair, most people don’t really think about this. Their innocent desire is the honor of signing a friend’s marriage license.

This raises another theological question: what is marriage? There are two paths to follow in our thinking. One is to conceive of marriage as a legal contract, authorized by the state. The second is to believe that marriage is a sacred covenant created by God. To enter into this covenant is an act of Christian worship. Most people subscribe to the first path and this best explains why ordination has evolved into a consumer item for sale.

I’m for re-creating a culture in the church that regards marriage as God’s creation and ordination as his gift to the Christian church. If you feel God’s call to ministry, I would love to talk with you and help you discern what God might be saying to you. If you feel called to enter into the covenant of marriage, I would be honored to do premarital counseling with you and help you plan your wedding.

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