WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK. – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as an introduction to the ministry. This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document. While the editors will catch minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at firstname.lastname@example.org © 2003 Keith Drury
My Ordination Service
When I finish my education how soon can I be ordained? Where will they hold my ordination service? Who will do the ordaining? What if I get cold feet and want to back out? What preparation will I need to make for my ordination service? Should I send out invitations? Can I pick the preacher? What actually will happen in that service?
Most denominations don’t ordain you right after graduation from college or seminary. They expect you to get a few years experience before you are ordained for lifelong service. Ordination should not be taken lightly. Some individuals, upon getting actual experience in a church decide not to go through with ordination. That is okay—it would be like a couple who decided to get married, but over time one or both realized that “this is not right for me.” Most people would say, “Whew—that was close” and congratulate you on not moving forward into a marriage you knew was not for you.
The same is true of ordination. You may be called, confirmed by the church to pursue studies, graduate from college and seminary then get a few years experience in actual full time ministry and realize “this is not right for me.” This is not a problem (other than your education that now seems to be wasted). Like marriage, until you “tie the knot” in the public ceremony you can still “get out of it.” This is why most denominations have you spend several years in actual ministry (some as long as a decade) before you “tie the knot” in your ordination service.
The wedding metaphor
The allusion to marriage here is not accidental—an ordination is very much like a wedding. It is the public ceremony where you make a lifelong commitment. Can you ever “get a divorce?” Yes, it sometimes happens, but you would never stand up to get marriage (or ordained) with that possibility in mind. What Christian would get married thinking, “If it doesn’t work out I can get someone else?” None. Neither would anyone get ordained thinking something similar.
Ordination is a lot like marriage. Marriage started with an inner love, the ministry starts with an inner call. Like marriage is two-way (both she and he must agree) the ministry is also two way—the church and you must both agree (actually, God too). Both relationships seek the approval of others: “I really see the two of you together for life” or “I can really see you as an effective minister as your life calling.” People headed for marriage spend lots of time together getting to know each other. If you are called to the ministry you’ll spend lots of time at church getting to know God’s work intimately. In a dating relationship sooner or later you might decide to marry. Same for the ministry—eventually you’ll decide this is what you will do for your life. Next you’ll start planning the wedding. For the minister you’ll plan toward your ordination service. Finally there will be the actual ceremony of your wedding, or in the ministry the ordination ceremony. And, of course both are supposed to lead to a lifelong relationship.
is not a new idea. It is an ancient
custom for a group to set apart its spiritual leaders. Its roots go back to the Old Testament when
God’s prophet was sent to anoint Saul and David with oil as the leader God had
chosen. The priesthood was set apart by
the people. The high priest was installed
in an awe-inspiring ceremony. In the New
Testament Jesus appointed twelve of his followers as apostles. The church at
When a group of ministers gather around you to lay hands on you to ordain you, you will be able to imagine that these ministers one day had the hands of other older minister on them when they were ordained, and those minister were set apart by still older ministers—indeed you might imagine a long line of ordination services where ministers laid hands on other ministers who laid hand on other ministers, who laid hands on still other ministers… who are now laying hands on you in your ordination. The ministry has passed down from generation to generation through the laying on of hands all the way to you—a sort of ministerial succession from the first century. What a heritage!
Preparing for your ordination service
Obviously you will want to prepare your heart for this most important worship service of your life. If you have doubts about going through with it, better to call the whole thing off—this is not a trivial ceremony you can later dismiss. When you are ordained you may experience an actual power an anointing from God. In fact, people who seriously took ordination vows then later abandoned the ministry often feel out of place—as if they have to make an excuse for why they are not in the ministry. Like a person who got married but no longer lives with their spouse, an ordained minister who leaves the active ministry often feels like something is missing—like something was amputated from their life. If you are not called to lifelong ministry don’t get ordained. Instead, serve the church as a full time lay worker. Ordination is a serious vow. Prepare your heart carefully as you approach your ordination day.
But you will want to make other preparations as well. You’ll want to invite the same people you’d invited to your wedding. Invite people who know you; people who care for you. This is the high day in your ministry—so you’ll want to send invitations to all your friends to be there. And you’ll want to consider planning a reception or luncheon if your ordination council doesn’t do that. It is a grand day and you’ll want to make it so.
Your actual ordination service
The order and style of your ordination service will vary depending on your denomination. But most ordination services have lots in common, for this rite is an ancient one. The service will usually begin with an invitation to worship and then worship through singing. A minister will offer an invocation of God’s presence and assistance in the service. There will be a message delivered, almost always by a denominational or church representative with years of experience. Sometimes they will have you (and a spouse, if you are married) sit in the front and sometimes they will preach that sermon directly to you with the others listening in (again, very much like a wedding).
After the sermon you may be presented to an important denominational or church representative who is presiding (sometimes there will be others ordained along with you—then all the candidates are presented together). The minister presiding then might give the acceptance—announcing that you have been examined and are called and qualified for the ministry. There will usually be Scripture reading—from the Old Testament, the Epistles and the Gospels following that ancient practice.
Publicly you’ll hear a charge to you something like the charge or challenge given at a wedding, about the ministry to which you are being ordained. Then you’ll probably face a public examination where the denominational official or church representative will ask you publicly to answer a series of questions confirming that you are called, on your beliefs in the core Christian doctrines and the articles of faith of that particular denomination and asking you to make a vow to preach the word, live as a minister above reproach and submit to the church’s authority. These vows are not frivolous words made to fill up the service, but are serious promises you make—so you should consider them beforehand and approach them at least as seriously as you would your wedding vows. Some denominations invite the spouse of the person ordained to make a spouse’s covenant since the ministry is a unique job and requires family support.
Finally he bishop or presiding minister will lay hands on you, (or have some or all the ministers present gather around and lay hands on you) then the actual act of ordination and the prayer of enduement. This is an actual prayer seriously asking God to fill, empower and gift you for this ministry. It is based on the Apostle Paul’s reminder to Timothy that when elders laid their hands on him something actually happened—it was not merely a ritual (1 Timothy ). They will actually pray that something “spiritual” happens to you at this moment—a filling, an empowerment, an equipping, an anointing that enables you to minister supernaturally, not just from your own gifts and graces. For many something actually does happen—especially to those who expect it in faith. They become changed persons from that moment on. For others nothing seems to happen at the moment—but certainly you should seek an “enduement” from God for a life of ministry—whether it comes at this moment or later on. For most ministers, the ordination service seems to be a perfect moment to seek this supernatural power from God in faith.
Following the prayer, they might give you a gift of an ordination Bible to remember the occasion as they will practice the custom of extending the right hand of fellowship which means all those who laid hands on you will now shake your hand in a congratulatory atmosphere as they welcome you into the ordained ministry. All these rites are natural ways of other ordained ministers welcoming you into the community of the ordained. After a benediction there will likely be a receiving line where all your friends will greet you and offer their congratulations and prayers. Following the greeting line there may be a reception sponsored by the ordination council or you might plan and sponsor a dinner or reception on your own for your family and friends.
Of course ordination services vary a lot between regions and denominations but you get the general idea here. Ordination is a solemn rite where you are set apart for a lifetime of ministry. It is a high day of your ministry and you’ll want to have photos taken to remember this day the rest of your life. On that day you will have joined a long line of priests and ministers through thousands of years of history who gave their lives to lifelong service to God’s people. It is a day for celebration! It is such an extraordinary event for some ministers that they celebrate its anniversary each year by preaching a special sermon on the Sunday closest to the date.
Follow up study and application
1. Tell about any ordination service you have attended—describe it and how it was different from the one described in this chapter.
2. Tell others who you’d would invite for sure to your ordination—who you would really want to be there, and who you’d be disappointed if they missed it.
2. Talk about the parallels between a wedding ceremony and an ordination—and extend those through the rest of a ministry life. While there are always limits to such parallels or metaphors, what are the primary ones you want to keep in mind?
4. The more important the event the greater use of tradition (e.g. a wedding, coronation, or inauguration). List the traditions in an ordination that you think should be kept in the future—and those you’d be willing to adapt or drop—how would you make an ordination service “contemporary” without losing the long tradition associated with important rituals.
5. Ask a minister to describe their own ordination service and find out how they think the service should have been done better—to reflect the significance of the event.
6. Do a bible study in the Old and New Testaments on “laying on of hands” and “anointing with oil.” Show your findings to another.