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Ordinations Under Fire in Tennessee

By David Newkirk

What makes an ordination legal and valid? 

Currently, the state of Tennessee is challenging this question by passing a law that would put some requirements or conditions on who can be legally recognized in the state to perform weddings and sign an ordination certificate.

The law is currently being challenged, but no matter how the dust settles, you should be asking yourself the following question:

“Do we have an ordination program at our church that would be recognized by the state?”

To accurately answer this question, we need to have a deeper understanding of what a solid ordination program entails. Before we dive into that list, let’s take a look at what has been going on in the state of Tennessee over the past few months. 

New Tennessee law restricts online ordinations

Tennessee lawmakers passed a new law back in May that prohibits "persons receiving online ordinations from solemnizing the rite of matrimony.” The law was set to take effect on July 1, 2019; however, a federal judge put the law on hold due to some "serious constitutional issues.” 

The judge stated there will be hearings later in the year to determine the outcome of the law. If the law is upheld, anyone who becomes ordained through an online service would no longer be able to perform weddings legally in the state of Tennessee. 

Establishing an ordination program

At StartCHURCH, it is common for us to receive calls from people asking if our company “does ordinations.” The answer to such questions is, no, we do not.

StartCHURCH is here to help you establish your legal, foundational documents so that your church or ministry has the legal right to create an ordination program to license and ordain individuals, including yourself. All of this can be achieved through our StartRIGHT Service, which allows you to establish a corporation through which you are able to ordain individuals as the Lord leads you to do so. 

There have been court rulings and laws in the past that provide regulations when it comes to ordination. Until the recent Tennessee law, the most significant ruling was one that came from the Supreme Court of Virginia, which stated that the selection or election of an ordained minister “must be a considered, deliberate, and responsible act.” You can read more about this ruling from our blog here.

Is Your Ordination Valid?


Ensuring you have a legal ordination

If you are considering starting a church, or have already planted one, it is crucial that you have the right language in your corporate documents. This language includes a statement that the organization will license and ordain ministers of the gospel, as well as a description of your classes of ministers. This information should be located in your articles of incorporation and bylaws, respectively. If you’re not sure if you have the appropriate language in your governing documents, I encourage you to take a look. If you’re not sure how to do this, give us a call at 877-494-4655 and ask to speak with one of our church planting specialists.

Unfortunately, many churches never consider the quality of their governing documents. As a result, some pastors discover later on that there are deficiencies in their organization’s foundational documents that call into question the validity of their ordinations.

A common misconception among pastors and ministers is, “once ordained, always ordained.” If the organization that ordained you is no longer in existence (for example, it has been administratively dissolved by the state), your ordination could no longer be valid. 

In the same way, it is recommended to check your ordination credentials to verify that it has not expired or been revoked by the organization that ordained you. 

If you have any questions about the validity of your ordination or your church’s legal foundation, give us a call at 877-494-4655.

How to create an ordination program in your church

If you are leading a church or ministry, it is necessary that your organization create an ordination program. A structured program fulfills the requirement that all ordinations “be a considered, deliberate, and responsible act.”

To help fulfill this requirement, your church should create a licensing and ordination program that is comprised of the ten components shown below:

    • Make sure that all of your corporate documents, such as the articles of incorporation, bylaws, and board meeting minutes, contain language stating that the organization will license and ordain ministers of the gospel. 
    • Require that a certain set of criteria be met by the applicant, such as classes, on-the-job training, volunteer work at the church, and/or involvement in the local ministry. Keep a good record of all ministers that are licensed or serving under the apprenticeship of a pastor.
    • Require an application with a fee.
    • Require an exam to be taken and passed with a minimum required score.
    • Establish a formal process of commissioning.
    • Assign the ordination an expiration and renewal date.
    • Require a renewal process by either an application or written letter requesting a renewal.
    • Keep a good record of all ministers that are commissioned, licensed, ordained, active, inactive, and revoked.
    • Make sure that his or her role as a minister is conveying your church’s message and mission.
    • Require that the minister maintain a meaningful relationship with the ordaining church by attending conferences or services at least once a year.

Get your ordination start

We will be monitoring how this recent issue over online ordinations in Tennessee proceeds. No matter what the outcome of this law is, you can rest assured that the ordination program you create for your organization will be recognized by your state as legitimate by using the StartRIGHT Service. 

By using our service, you can receive everything you need to securely provide your church or ministry with a legal foundation necessary for you to establish your own legitimate ordination program. 

If you have questions about your organization’s foundational documents or about your ordination program, give us a call at 877-494-4655. A church planting specialist is standing by to answer your questions. Or, click on the link below to schedule a call. 

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