Your Guide to Legal Ordination

Written by Chaston Asbury on Apr 12, 2022 in IRS Compliance

If you have ever considered what it takes to become an ordained minister, this blog is for you!

If you search "how to become an ordained minister" on Google, you will find more than eight million search results. Unfortunately, while there is a lot of helpful information online about ordination, there is also a lot of misinformation.

Continue reading to learn the myths and truths of what spiritual and legal ordination means!

What Does Ordination Mean?

The answer to that question depends on what you want to know regarding ordination. Many pastors do not realize that there is both a spiritual and legal aspect to consider. First, it is essential to understand that legal ordination is necessary for all pastors and ministry leaders. Second, I want you to be confident in knowing that your church or ministry can be the organization that ordains you. Last, ordination should be considered a deliberate and responsible act.

Most ministers are under the impression that for their ordination to be considered "valid," they can only become ordained through an established church with a large congregation and long history. Unfortunately, many ministers also buy into the myth that they "cannot be ordained through their church."

In reality, you can start a church, establish it on a solid legal foundation, and become legally ordained through the church you started! To learn more about how StartCHURCH can assist you in this process, click here.

You may be thinking, "Getting ordained through my church sounds great, but can't I just get ordained online?" You can be ordained online; however, please be aware of the implications of being ordained online.


Are Online Ordinations Legal and Valid?

Online ordinations are easy and convenient to obtain. However, in recent years, Congress and state governments have expressed concern over the proliferation of online ordinations. Those concerns focus on whether the people who receive an online ordination are authorized to solemnize marriages.

In Cramer v. Commonwealth, a group of ministers ordained by the Universal Life Church (ULC) had their right to conduct marriage ceremonies revoked by the Circuit Court of Richmond, Virginia.

Below are some highlights of the case:

  • It was determined that the relationships between the ministers of ULC and ULC itself were nearly nonexistent.
  • It was revealed that ULC's ordained ministers had few meetings with a congregation. In some instances, there were no meetings or gatherings at all.
  • The meetings or gatherings that did occur usually were at one's home or public locations (such as restaurants). Moreover, the topics discussed during the gatherings were not often of a religious nature.

The Supreme Court of Virginia ensured that this particular case had nothing to do with religious freedom. However, due to the legal nature of marriage, the need for a legally ordained minister is necessary.

The Supreme Court of Virginia recognized the "necessity that the marriage contract itself be memorialized in writing and by a person of responsibility and integrity and by one possessed of some educational qualifications."

Essentially, there are three things we can take away from this ruling:

  • The Supreme Court of Virginia looked for a formal process of ordination.
  • The ordination process "must be a considered, deliberate, and responsible act."
  • The states cannot give preference to more established churches when considering the validity of ordinations.

The Tenets of a Solid Ordination Process 

As we have seen, the courts have determined that to be legally ordained; it does not matter how long your church has been in existence, nor how large your church is. How can you be sure, though, that the ordinations your church conducts are legal in the eyes of the courts?

To help fulfill the legal requirement of ordination, your church or ministry should create a licensing and ordination program that is "considered, deliberate, and responsible."

To fulfill this requirement, most churches and ministries would want to consider adding the following to their ordination program:

  • Ensure your corporate documents, such as the articles of incorporation, bylaws, and board meeting minutes, contain licensing and ordination language.
  • Require a specific set of criteria to be met by the applicant, such as classes, on-the-job training, volunteer work at the church, or involvement in the local ministry. 
  • 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 application or written letter requesting a renewal.
  • Keep a good record of all ministers commissioned, licensed, ordained, active, inactive, and revoked.
  • Make sure that their 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.

To learn more about creating an ordination program for your church or ministry, I encourage you to check out our video course, Equipped to Ordain


Be Confident and Equipped

At StartCHURCH, we believe every church and ministry should be equipped with the tools they need to fulfill their religious and charitable purpose. Part of that purpose may be to create ordination programs that are true to their values and produce faithful shepherds while abiding by government standards. 

The Equipped to Ordain video course is for church planters, pastors, and ministry leaders who want to make sure they know the ins and outs of what spiritual and legal ordination is. With Equipped to Ordain, you can create legal, compliant, and proven strategies for ordaining men and women through your ministry.

To learn more about how your organization can fulfill God's purposes and align with the laws of the land, give us a call at (770) 638-3444 or click here to schedule a call with a specialist.


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

And receive Book 1 of our Grow Trilogy FREE today! This series gives you the strategies you need to get started growing your church plant today!