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Why Do We Do What We Do: Ordination

What is Ordination?  

Many of Trinity’s members and regular attenders come from backgrounds other than Presbyterianism. Questions often come up about why we do what we do. One of the most common is related to church officers. Why do we have officers? How are they chosen? What do they do? Here’s a few thoughts on the ordination and installation of officers.

In our denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America), pastors and other church officers begin their work only after they are officially ordained and installed. Ordination is all about being set apart to an official task of leadership in the church. Pastors (Teaching Elders), Ruling Elders, and Deacons all go through forms of this process. The procedure for setting someone apart for leadership is governed by our Book of Church Order (BCO). Summarizing Scripture, the BCO describes ordination as “the authoritative admission of one duly called to an office in the Church of God, accompanied by prayer and the laying on of hands” (BCO 17-2). The BCO also provides the requirements for ordination: officers must be trained, examined, called, and approved.

Pastors, Ruling Elders, and Deacons go through different versions of this testing and ordaining process. For Pastors, a Master’s Degree from a theological seminary is followed by a rigorous series of exams given by the presbytery (the regional gathering of elders) once a congregation or session votes to call them as a pastor. If the candidate passes the exams at presbytery, then they are able to be ordained. In the case of Ruling Elders and Deacons, seminary degrees are not required. These officers are chosen by the local congregation and examined for their character and their understanding of the Bible, theology, ministry, and church government by that congregation’s session. If they pass these exams they are ready to be ordained for the work.

Each of these steps is meant to ensure that our leaders are truly qualified and called by God to do the work of shepherding, teaching, and serving in the church. Ordination does not put you in a special class of Christian, but it does authorize you to lead in the Christian community. Leadership in the church is a big responsibility—and so requires a high level of scrutiny. 

But officers not only have to be ordained, they also have to be installed. Installation is the recognition of the prospective leader’s calling and the acceptance of their leadership within the context of the local church. The BCO clearly states that no one can be ordained to church office who is not installed to do a “definite work.” In other words, ordination to church office is not a position or status symbol. Rather, it is the permission to go to work in service of a particular body of people in a particular place. No one can be approved to lead in the church unless they’ve been approved by a church. Once ordained and installed, Pastors and Ruling Elders oversee and care for the congregation’s spiritual health and Deacon serve the church in meeting its physical and spiritual needs.

Understanding all of that helps us once again remember our shared mission as a church. We long for God to work in our city and county by drawing people to Christ and growing them up as His disciples. We believe Lakeland will be a better city when more and more people trust Christ alone for salvation, commit their lives to Him, and join up with His body. And the work God has given us to do requires every member of the body! All of us serve Christ by using the gifts He has given us. We set apart leaders who are called to shepherd, teach, and serve—but we also commit ourselves to serving as we are equipped by God’s Spirit (Ephesians 4:11-16). Pray that God would raise up more leaders for the work in Polk County. Take time to encourage our own Luke Wolfe who will be continuing the process towards ordination soon.