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31 Aug 2017

How to Become an Ordained Minister

Trey Lewis

In ministry, there are milestones that every minister experiences. For you, maybe it was when you first heard or felt the call of the Lord on your life. Perhaps it was when you preached your first sermon or officiated your first wedding.

What about the day you became ordained? That is a big milestone every minister vividly remembers.

However, what if I told you that there is a good chance you do not fully understand ordination? What if I told you that there is a chance your ordination could be expired?

Would you believe me?

The truth of the matter is that ordination is one of the most misunderstood subjects for pastors and ministry leaders. This is why one of the most common question ministers ask is, “How do I become an ordained?”

Unfortunately, many ministers have bought into some “myths” concerning ordination. For this reason, I want to take some time to address three of the most common ordination myths. 

3 ordination myths that ministers buy into

Myth 1: “Once ordained, always ordained”

One of the most common myths surrounding ordination is that it never expires. This could be true, but only if the church from which you received your ordination purposefully keeps your ordination and license valid.

It is important to know that the ordaining organization has the right to revoke your ordination without your knowing. In addition, if the ordaining organization dissolves, then your ordination can become invalid. 

In other words, if the church or ministry that ordained you was forced to close its doors, or simply no longer exists, then the ordination that you received can be invalid. 

Now you may be asking, “Is there even a reason or benefit for ordinations to have an expiration date?”

Well, there is, and as I share at our conferences, I want to share with you the benefits that exist for both the ordaining body and the ordained minister.

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a) Benefit to the ordaining church body

Including an expiration date on one’s ordination allows the church an opportunity to ensure that ministers being ordained in the church’s name continue to uphold the lifestyle and doctrines that are consistent with that of the church. 

Having a “renewal process” allows the church, and minister alike, to reaffirm an ongoing relationship with one another.

The last thing any ordaining body wants is for one of the ministers it has ordained to preach messages and adhere to doctrines with which it does not agree.

b) Benefit to the ordained minister

In the same manner that it is important for ministers you ordain to agree with the doctrines and teachings of your church, it is necessary for your church to show that an ongoing relationship exists between you and the ministers you ordain.

Though this seems to be of little consequence, the Cramer v. Commonwealth* case indicates otherwise. 

In hearing a case about the validity of mail-in and online ordinations from a group of ministers, the Supreme Court of Virginia determined that the relationships between the ordained ministers and the ordaining body were nearly nonexistent.

Therefore, when an ordaining church body includes expiration and renewal dates along with the ordinations and licenses it issues, the church is in some manner able to maintain a relationship with the ministers it ordains.

Myth 2: “I am ordained; I can now ordain others”

Many ministers are under the impression that once they are ordained, they have the sole authority to ordain others. That, however, is simply not true. 

In fact, the courts have ruled, and the IRS has followed, that no one person has the right or power to license an individual. 

The authority and power to ordain lies with the ordaining body such as a church or ministry.

This does not mean that you cannot conduct an ordination ceremony and lay hands on a newly ordained minister. 

What it does mean is that you, as a minister or an authorized individual of the ordaining church, can lay hands on a person of God and legally ordain him/her so long as it is done under the authority of the church according to its doctrines, beliefs, and bylaws.

To help drive this point home, consider the following example:

Example:

When you go to your state’s Department of Driver Services (DDS) to receive your driver’s license, there is a process you must complete to receive a valid license. Once that process is complete, the individual behind the counter at the DDS hands you your state driver’s license.

Although it is an individual behind the counter who hands you your driver’s license, he/she is not the one validating your driver’s license. That person is simply a representative of the state that is validating your driver’s license. 

In a similar fashion, it is not Pastor A from Church X validating your ordination. Rather, it is Church X validating your ordination via Pastor A. Simply put, Pastor A is a representative of Church X.

Myth 3: “I cannot be ordained by my own church”

For the past few years at our conferences, I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of pastors and ministry leaders with a call on their life to start a church. 

I learned that many of these leaders were hesitant when it came to answering the call God had placed on their life. It took me a little while to realize it, but many of them seemed to have the same dilemma. 

Many of these leaders believed that they could start a church only after they had been ordained or licensed as a minister of the gospel by another more well established church.

That, however, is not true.

In fact, one can start a church, establish it on a solid legal foundation, and then become ordained through the very church that he/she started.

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This is good news for all churches both large and small. However, there is one requirement that every church will need to meet.

How to become a legally ordained minister

We know that you can become ordained through the very church you start no matter how big it is or how long it has been around. Yet, what are you supposed to do in order to make that happen?

In Cramer v. Commonwealth mentioned earlier, the court also noted in its ruling that the selection of a minister must be a “considered, deliberate, and responsible act."

In other words, in order to ordain ministers of the gospel, your church needs to implement an ordination program. 

There are 10 steps that every church should implement in its ordination program. Although I discuss each of the 10 steps in depth at our conferences, I want to briefly share with you 5 of the 10 steps to implement in your ordination program.

  1. Make sure you have the necessary ordination language in your church’s corporate documents (i.e. your articles of incorporation and bylaws).
  2. Require an application with a fee.
  3. Require an exam to be taken and passed with a minimum requirement score. (We provide an exam template in out Minister’s Suite™.)
  4. Assign an expiration and renewal date.
  5. Require that the minister maintain a meaningful relationship with your church by attending conferences or services at least once per year.

What your church or ministry should do next

Becoming an ordained minister is definitely a special moment in the life of every minister. To be recognized by your peers and church as one who has been called to teach and preach the gospel is a day that a minister will never forget. 

Yet, it is also on this very day that a minister’s status as a taxpayer changes in such a way that many are not aware.

Because of this, we have recognized the need to educate and empower pastors and churches across the country on the subjects of church compliance and tax law.

I encourage you to click below and register for one of our upcoming conferences. Take a step of faith and join us at a conference near you!

Lastly, if you simply have some questions, please give us a call at 877-494-4655. It would be our honor and privilege to serve you in any possible way. 

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Handpicked articles for you:

Citation:

Cramer v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 561, 202 S.E.2d 911 (1974)

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Blessings,
Raul Rivera

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About the Author

With more than 10 years of ministry experience, Trey Lewis serves as a church plant consultant and conference speaker. Trey is passionate about teaching and equipping pastors and church leaders all across the United States regarding how to establish a proper legal foundation for their churches and ministries so that they can protect that which God has given them to lead. In addition to his work here at StartCHURCH, Trey is also the president of Love Them Well, Inc., a ministry that takes him into some of the most oppressed neighborhoods in Atlanta in order to share the love and gospel of Jesus Christ. Trey and his wife Holly reside in the greater Atlanta area with their 2 sons and daughter.