Quite a few years ago, I endured one of the most challenging days of my pastoral career. Sure, I’ve done some funerals that were challenging. Yes, I have had some teenagers in youth group that I wanted to throttle (all in Christian love, of course). And without a doubt, there has been a parent or two along the way that left me beating my own head against a 2x4 so I didn’t use it on them. But nothing compares to the day I faced my ordination council. [insert dramatic music]
To legally become a pastor, one simply needs to be recognized by a religious group, and given a license to “marry-and-bury.” You don’t have to go to school, you don’t even have to know a thing about the Bible, you just have to find a religious organization that will give you the title. Thankfully, most solid religious groups don’t throw that title around too loosely, and usually they have developed guidelines that honor the office and come with built-in protection for the church and the pastor.
Becoming a Reverend, however, is a slightly more involved process. Again, some organizations issue that title without much else than a candidate showing a few hundred bulletins with their name on it (implying that you worked at a church for several years), but the vast majority of institutions, organizations and churches that issue that title do so with high regard.
Some men I know had to complete three years of master’s level schooling before they could receive the title. Others I know studied the Bible for a few months, then took a written test and a short oral examination before the title Reverend was given to them. My process was somewhere in-between.
Following the prompting of my Sr. Pastor in Salem, I had five years to work toward my ordination. Naturally I waited until the final year to begin the process, because I knew how much work it would be. Every week for a year, I met with one of our elders, Richard Muntz, and we slowly tackled the major doctrinal themes of the Bible. The process went something like this:
- I would write a paper on a particular doctrinal topic
- Richard would read it and and help me dissect it
- I would re-write the paper and Richard would help me make more changes
- After Richard approved, I would present my paper to other church leaders, who would also weigh-in
I did this for over a year so that I would be better prepared for my ordination council. The ordination council consists of any number of pastors and missionaries who are already ordained, who enjoy watching others sweat as much as they did when they faced their ordination council. In my case, about 25-30 pastors and leaders showed up to be my firing squad.
We started at 9am, and finished up sometime around 4pm, including a 1-hour lunch break. I stood at the front of the room and these men sat comfortably, smiling maniacally, salivating at the chance to devour another pour soul [insert scary music]. So for six hours, these men pelted me with questions about theology. They hounded me about my knowledge of the Bible. The drilled me about pastoral ministry and practice.
When the questions were finished, I was excused from the room while these men openly discussed what they had seen and heard. I was gone for about thirty minutes, really beginning to sweat, when I was asked to come back into the room. They then gave a summary of their discussions, offered any recommendations they may have had and then told me their conclusion as to whether or not they believe I should be be ordained, or whether I should continue my studies and try again later.
That moment between when they said they were going tell me and when they actually told me felt like an hour. It was only a moment and the council unanimously voted to recommend me for ordination. That’s right...y’all should be calling me reverend!
Since my own ordination, I’ve had the privilege of sitting on the ordination council of others and I smile with sympathy. I work hard to ask questions that are aimed at helping the candidate out, not trapping him with some clever theological “wisdom” I have. It’s a tough process and it is a very tough day.
But even thinking back to my own ordination, I can tell you it was richly rewarding. The council forced me to evaluate some of my understanding of God’s Word. The council required me to know, not just what I believe, but why I believe it. The guys at my ordination gathering weren’t content with me answering “Jesus” to all the questions (because that’s always the right answer in almost every Sunday School class!), they wanted to know if the truths of God’s Word had really settled in my heart; did I believe what I knew to be true, and was it making a difference in my life?
In that sense, maybe all of us need an ordination council experience. All of us need that moment of truth, when we have to know what we know, and believe what we know, as the pressure is put on. I’m afraid that too many people trying to live the Overboard Life want to do it without the biblical truth to make that life a reality. They like the idea of living out of the boat, but really have no idea what it will require or what kind of intense testing will come on them, while they are out of the boat. Being grounded in the knowledge and belief of God’s Word is central to our spiritual growth and success! You cannot please God, you cannot step out and live in faith, if you do not know what God has already said about life and faith in His Word.
Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that God’s Word is alive and active. It has the capacity to reach into our hearts and expose our true motives and true values. Psalm 119:9-11 reminds us that God’s Word is a powerful tool in our fight to stay morally pure. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches us that the Word of God is useful for every aspect of our lives; God’s Word speaks to issues we are working through today! Romans 10:14-15 reminds us that the power of the Gospel is presented in the Word of God by those sent to preach it. On and on I could go, but the reality is simple: You cannot live the Overboard Life without a healthy dose of God’s Word in your daily routine.
I don’t always eat as much as I should at God’s table. There are days that go by and my Bible (or Bible app) remains largely unopened and unused. Those are generally not my best days. But the days that I drink deeply of the Word, and the days I try to better understand the Bible, those are the days I’m most eager to stay out of the boat, and to stay on the water where Jesus is working.
Are you getting your fill of God’s Word? Are you ready for your ordination council? You may not have a formal council like I did, but you will be tested -- all of us will! And the question is whether or not you will believe what you know about God and His Word. Are you prepared for your next test? Spend time each day in God’s Word, and though the testing may be hard, you’ll be better prepared for the questions that come your way.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!