What Every Minister Needs to Know About Ordination

Written by Raul Rivera on Aug 23, 2016 in Pastoral Helps

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’s a big milestone I bet every minister vividly remembers; and rightfully so.

But what if I told you that there’s a good chance you don’t fully understand ordination. What if I told you that there’s 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 both pastors and churches. And unfortunately, ministers have bought into some “myths” concerning ordination.

Because of that, I want to take some time to address three of the most common myths ministers have regarding ordination. We also discuss these myths at our conferences.  If you have some time, click on the link below and find a conference near you. We would love for you to join us!

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3 myths of ordination

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 specifically and purposefully keeps your ordination and/or 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 itself dissolves, your ordination can then become invalid.

So 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 from them would then be invalid.

Ordination Myth 1: "Once ordained, always ordained"

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

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

Benefit to the ordaining church body

Including expiration dates 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 church body wants is for one of its ordained ministers to hold its credentials while preaching and adhering to doctrines with which the church does not agree.

Benefit to the ordained minister

As it is important to your ministry that the ministers you ordain be in agreement with the doctrines and teachings of your church, it is necessary for your church 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/online ordinations from a group of ministers, the Supreme Court of Virginia determined that the relationships between the ordained ministers and the ordaining body itself were nearly non-existent.

Therefore, when an ordaining church body includes expiration/renewal dates with the ordinations and licenses it issues, then 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 themselves have the sole authority to ordain others. That, however, is simply not true. In fact, the courts have ruled, and the IRS has quickly 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.

Ordaination Myth 2: "I am ordained; I can now ordain others"

This doesn’t mean that you can’t conduct an ordination ceremony and lay hands on a newly ordained minister.

What it does mean is that you, as a minister or authorized person of the ordaining church, can lay hands on a man or woman of God and legally ordain him/her so long as it is done under the authority of the church who has asked you, in accordance with its doctrines, beliefs, and bylaws.

To help drive this point home, consider the following 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 was an individual behind the counter who handed you your driver’s license, he or 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 20 years I’ve had the pleasure of helping thousands of pastors and church leaders all across the country. I have also had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of individuals who have a call on their life to start a church.

Ordination Myth 3: "I cannot be ordained by my own church"

But as I spoke with these individuals about their calling, many of them seemed to be very hesitant when in 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 them 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 they 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.

Requirement churches must meet to ordain

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. But what are you supposed to do in order to make that happen.

In the Cramer v. Commonwealth case mentioned earlier, the court also noted in its ruling that the selection or election 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 we discuss each of the 10 steps in depth at our conferences, I want to briefly share with you several of those 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.
  4. Assign an expiration/renewal date.
  5. Require that the minister maintain a meaningful relationship with your church by attending conferences or services at least once per year.

Where to go from here

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 tax payer 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 clickbelow and register for one of our upcoming conferences. Take a step of faith and join us so that we can partner with you on your journey.

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

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.

Raul Rivera

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