Becoming an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene is a process that involves years of preparation and comprehensive examination. It’s not an easy accomplishment, nor should it be. Nonetheless, it is a worthy pursuit for anyone sensing the call of God and serious about lifelong service in the church.
Various denominations have different standards for ordination. Any process that lacks careful analysis of the individual being considered isn’t worth the ink printed on the credential. If someone is merely looking for a piece of paper to hang in their office, there are plenty of mail-order certificates that can be purchased online. However, if one is looking to commit to a life of service within the context of the global church, then submission to a process of examination and accountability is essential.
The Board of Ministry (credentials/studies) is the committee that walks with students through the course of study. Currently, these boards are gearing up for their annual meetings, as they are preparing to meet with candidates looking to be licensed and/or ordained. In light of that, I’d like to offer some advice for ministerial candidates and the members of the credentialing committees that will be reviewing their progress toward ordination.
To Ministerial Candidates:
“The Lord’s called me to preach, not study…” This is a running joke with the Kentucky District Board of Ministry, as similar words have been spoken far too often concerning ministerial preparation. Let me assure you, if the Lord’s called you to preach, then He’s also called you to study. Moreover, He’s called you to submit to a process of accountability while you study.
The call of God to ordained ministry is not something to be taken lightly. Those answering the call are preparing to provide spiritual care for an entire community, or local parish. That’s serious business.
Think about this in light of other professions that impact people’s lives. I would never let a heart surgeon open me up who had not received the proper training, completed residency, and wasn’t board certified. I wouldn’t allow an attorney to represent me who hadn’t been to law school and passed the bar exam. Why would anyone pursuing a call to ordained ministry expect shortcuts in preparing to lead God’s people and preach God’s Word?
So, for candidates in the process, anticipate an exhaustive review of your life, including an expectation to complete a certain amount of education and experience before being ordained. Do not presume the church should validate your desire for a position of spiritual authority if you aren’t willing to fully submit to the process.
With that disclaimer, the following is a brief overview of the threefold credentialing process in the Church of the Nazarene.
(1) Local License: If you sense the Lord calling you to ministry, talk to your pastor. The first step is to receive a local license from the church where you are a member. You will hold that license for a minimum of one year while you take classes and serve in the local church under the guidance of your pastor.
(2) District License: Once you have met the requirements you will then receive a district license. The District Assembly approves district licensure after you’ve been approved and recommended by the Board of Ministry. For those who are unaware, the District Assembly is the annual meeting of the churches on a district where the candidate holds their membership.
(3) Ordination: Finally, a candidate can be ordained after working through four levels of preparation in the district licensing process. This will include a certain amount of educational requirements and experience in the local church. Completing the process typically takes between four and six years.
Remember, ordination is not something anyone is entitled to. Even if someone finishes all the prerequisites, they still may not be ordained if something is revealed along the way that disqualifies them from service.
Keep in mind, no one earns the right to be ordained. It is not like earning a degree. Ordination is bestowed upon a life that’s been consecrated to God’s service in the church. It is the affirmation of a person’s call through the global body.
Ordination essentially communicates, “Your life has been examined and we have found you suitable for a life of service in the church. We affirm the call of God on your life.” Beyond this, you will also be instructed to return your credentials if you ever find yourself at a place where you cannot uphold the theology, doctrine, and polity of the global church.
To Members of the Board of Ministry:
If you serve on the Board of Ministry in the Church of the Nazarene, I would encourage you to follow what is currently unfolding in the United Methodist Church. If you have a candidate for licensing or ordination under your guidance I’d advise you to pay close attention to every nuance of their ministry and how they communicate their beliefs, especially as it pertains to biblical theology.
The following is an example of what to look for: “I’m still working through this issue…” Anything related to this line of answering is typically an indication that the candidate has arrived at a place theologically on an issue that is contradictory to the church’s stance. I would recommend that if a candidate answers, “I’m still working through it…” to send them back to the local church until they’ve worked through it.
Consider this, these candidates are being licensed and/or ordained under your watch. What is described above is the same kind of maneuvering that has contributed to the schism in the UMC, as ordained elders have refused to adhere to the authority of the church. At some point, they slipped through the system and now the church is overwhelmed with dissension. Remember, it’s okay to say no.
I’ve discovered that “I’m still working through this issue…” is typically a disingenuous way of saying, “I don’t agree with the church’s stance on same-sex marriage.” Candidates using this verbiage realize that if they say what they actually mean they won’t be able to continue in the process.
They also believe their alignment with the LGBTQ+ community is greater than the church’s traditional teaching on marriage. Thus, they have developed ways of circumventing the credentialing process without much pushback. They do this because they believe that what they’re fighting for is greater than the church’s understanding. Therefore, subtle deceit in the credentialing process is justifiable in their eyes.
We are dealing with a cultural phenomenon that is impacting all of us. Sadly, many gifted young leaders within the church desire to appeal to culture over remaining faithful to Scripture. Unfortunately, they consider themselves more enlightened than the rest of us, so much so that they create ways of evading questions instead of being transparent through the process.
Make no mistake, the same narrative that has become embedded in the UMC is at work in every denomination. We will all face this issue regardless of what church we’re affiliated with. If we don’t use wisdom and discernment, those advocating for changes that contradict Scripture will slip through the system unnoticed. Don’t let it happen on your watch.
Doctrinal Harmony vs. Social Stances
I interpret the Manual through several lenses. Much of the Manual deals with the administration of the church; other parts speak to social issues. However, the most imperative parts are those pertaining to scriptural and doctrinal positions. Social and administrative matters will change with time. However, biblical, theological, and doctrinal positions should be preserved.
I know of situations where candidates for ordination, when asked if they were in harmony with the church’s doctrine, answered, “No.” They indicate that since changes are made at General Assembly every four years that no one should have to agree with the Manual it in its entirety. That certainly is a clever answer, but it’s not sufficient.
So, how should we respond? Some may react by saying, “Wow, what a great answer; I never thought of that before.” If that is your reaction, you just weakened the unity of the church. Remember that as you follow the proceedings of the UMC in the coming days.
Instead of yielding to a candidate’s crafty responses as they attempt to sidestep accountability for what they really believe, push them to provide details. For example, ask them, “What precisely do you disagree with?” or “What exactly are you trying to work through?” If they can’t provide details, don’t approve for them to continue.
Naturally, if they don’t agree with some policy on church voting or the way we report at district assembly, I’d say it’s okay to have differences of opinion on such things. However, if a candidate holds a dissenting view on key biblical doctrines, like marriage, then that needs to be fleshed out before they are permitted to remain in the process. In Kentucky, we assign mentors to work with ministerial students who lack understanding on any issue pertaining to theology or doctrinal positions.
The Real Agenda
Don’t be naive, there is an organized effort advocating for a narrative that’s far-removed from biblical Christianity on many issues. At the top of the list is the subject of same-sex marriage. Candidates who hold the view that same-sex marriage is okay indicate that as long as they agree not to promote their opinion, or perform a same-sex wedding, or allow their facility to be used for such purposes, that it should be okay if they hold to their personal belief.
This is a straw man argument, as this narrative is used to distract from the real objective, which is to work toward changing the church’s stance on essential theological issues. Once these candidates are ordained, they become emboldened in their advocacy for changing the church’s position, indicating that they’re standing in solidarity with those who are victims of the church’s hateful ways.
Beyond this, the same candidates who vow to never teach their opinions publically often linger in online discussion forums, speaking openly about their desire to see the church move in a new direction. They argue that they’re not teaching anything contrary to church doctrine, yet these online groups typically contain more people than their local church does on Sunday mornings. So actually, they are promoting teachings contrary to the covenant they made at the time of their ordination.
Make no mistake, what I have described is precisely where those that have bought into the progressive narrative will lead the church. So, members of our credentialing committees, I must ask: Do you want that to happen on your watch? Because if what’s happening in the UMC ever makes its way to the Church of the Nazarene, we will quickly become a denomination unable to sustain itself. With over 7,000,000 members in the U.S., the Methodists can endure a split of such magnitude. We wouldn’t fare so well.
Considering where we are culturally we should remember, the agenda of the Enemy is much greater than any one issue. Many are being played like pawns in the grand scheme of something much more destructive. The ultimate agenda of the Enemy is to completely undermine the authority of Scripture. Once the Bible ceases to be the authority, the church floats on like a ship without an anchor.
Proof of the Enemy’s strategy is that it’s becoming more common for those who have adopted a same-sex view of marriage to also claim to be “red-letter” Christians. As if Jesus’ words are all that matter, never mind the fact that Jesus taught the authority of all Scripture. Again, the scheme of the Enemy is much greater than the modern trends being imposed on the church.
To our United Methodist brothers and sisters, I’d like to say how much we appreciate the work of those who have remained faithful through the storm. We are watching and praying. We admire your audacity as you lovingly stand by God’s Word. We especially appreciate the work of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the New Room Conference. It has been inspiring to watch a movement rise up in the midst of overwhelming dissension. Press on, my friends!
Nazarenes, may we press on, too. Regardless of the narrative, regardless of the rhetoric, regardless of the hostility, regardless of the labels, regardless of the persuasiveness of those who have bought into the latest theological trends, may we stand firm, no matter what.
Bear in mind, the world is going to be the world, which is exactly why the church needs to be the church.