In the presbytery in which I serve, several new faith groups are emerging. One is led by a teaching elder who was ordained to serve her group while it was still being formed. Another is becoming a commissioned ruling elder (CRE) in order to be his community’s pastor. As a former member of the presbytery’s committee on ministry, this has gotten me thinking about the purpose and origin of ordination.
Presbyterians have understood ordination to be like a three-legged stool. First, the call comes from God; second, the individual hears that call; and third, a definable church group sees in the individual ministerial potential. In the case of deacons and ruling elders, that community is represented by church nominating committees, sessions, and the congregations who elect them. In the case of teaching elders, the call-discerning body begins with the session of the congregation of membership and, in most cases, eventually carries over to the preparation for ministry process and a pastor nominating committee (PNC), along with a presbytery entity, usually a commission on ministry, who examines both the individual and the PNC before confirming their decisions. “Ordination to the ordered ministry of teaching elder is an act of the whole church carried out by the presbytery, setting apart a person to ordered ministry” (Book of Order, G-2.0701).
Within our denomination’s governance, the ministries and ordination of teaching elder, deacon, and ruling elder share the same level of value. According to the Book of Order (G-2.0101), the “basic form of ministry is the ministry of the whole people of God, from whose midst some are called to ordered ministries, to fulfill particular functions. Members and those in ordered ministries serve together under the mandate of Christ.”
Within the real world, however, ranking tends to occur. Too many people think that clout comes from being "ordained to be a minister." “Anybody can be an elder," they think (and misspeak). “I want to be recognized as a minister of Word and Sacrament, as a teaching elder. Then people will respect me." In the first place, one interested in clout has no business seeking any ordered ministry. Secondly, in a perfect world, the ministry of ruling elder should command as much respect—in some cases more—as that of a teaching elder.
The church doesn't exist in order to ordain people. The church ordains people (to the three ordered ministries) that it needs in order to carry out its mission. There are no magical powers granted through ordination. “In ordination the church sets apart with prayer and the laying on of hands those who have been called through election by the church to serve as deacons, ruling elders, and teaching elders (Book of Order, W-4.4001a).
What significance does ordination hold for you?
How did you prepare to respond to the questions asked within the service of ordination (Book of Order, W-4.4003)?
How might you describe ordination to someone outside of the PC(USA) or someone who is not familiar with the term?
For more information on the PC(USA) Ordered Ministries, see the archived issue of Regarding Ruling Elders specifically on this subject.
Dee Wade is a teaching elder and serves as pastor of Anchorage Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been a member of three presbyteries: Transylvania, Sheppards and Lapsley, and Mid-Kentucky. He lives with wife, Deborah; son, Seth; cat, Bay-bee; and dog, Fingal.