The Life and Character of an Ordained Minister
(An ordination sermon by Bishop Keith Elford)
(Rev. Keith Elford was ordained in 1973 and has served several congregations of the FMCiC as a pastor. In 1997, he was elected as a bishop of the Free Methodist Church in Canada.)
George, this is a wonderful day in your life and I want to offer congratulations to you from ministerial colleagues who are serving the Lord in the Free Methodist movement all over the world. Some are pastors in other parts of Canada; some are church planters; some are chaplains serving in the Armed Forces, hospitals, and correctional services; some are missionaries and some are teachers in Bible colleges and seminaries.
And folks, this is a big moment in your pastor’s life, and you may be wondering exactly what it is that we are going to do to him today when we ordain him. Will he walk and talk differently after we are finished? Is this the moment when he receives the “stained glass voice” and he’ll talk differently? (If that happens, please let me know right away and I’ll come back and thump him on the back until he loses that!) In reality, after today, the only thing that will have changed substantially is that George will have the privilege of using the title “Reverend.”
Today, George is stepping forward to take sacred vows with God and the Free Methodist Church that he will serve God and people as a servant leader for the rest of his life. This is one moment in a whole journey, but it is a very special moment that has involved a journey that has been in progress for several years. It began when George gave his heart to the Lord Jesus and became a Christian. Some time later, if his experience is similar to others, he began to sense a question in his heart: “Is God calling me to give my life to Him in a special way for full-time service?” And then the dialogue began; Maybe…. Nah. Maybe… Nah. Maybe…
When the “maybe” got strong enough, George began to share what he was sensing with one or two trusted spiritual friends. He asked them, “What do you think?” And they likely said, “It may be that God is calling you. Keep listening…carefully and prayerfully.”
Then the circle got wider and George took his question to the wider circle, “What do you think?” And in various ways, his trusted spiritual friends in that larger circle were replying, “May be… It’s important that you listen carefully.”
As George continued to listen to God and prayed and studied and had conversations with others, his call to present himself for ordination began to get clarified. Once it got somewhat clarified, this was shared with the congregation where he worshipped. And the people in the congregation probably responded in several ways—with statements in which they were saying things like, “It looks like possibly God is calling you,” or perhaps others would say, “Yes, we’ve seen it for a long time and we’ve been wondering when you would respond to what God is saying to you!”
So George began to receive opportunities to exercise his ministry gifts in the congregation… to make his mistakes…. to have what seemed like a great idea not turn out so well and been forgiven.… All along the way the congregation said, “Never mind—We see God at work in you and your ministry. You just need to have more experience and opportunities to learn. We see it!”
Once the folks at home saw that George was showing evidence of gifts and graces for ministry, the leaders of his congregation granted him a Lay Minister’s license and after some time, recommended him to the Ministerial Education, Guidance and Placement Committee to be considered for Ministerial Candidacy. As George prepared himself through taking required courses and exercising his ministry and went through interviews, the Ministerial Education, Guidance and Placement Committee were watching and listening and discerning, and at some point, they said, “It looks like there are gifts and graces for ministry here. Let’s recommend this candidate for ministerial candidacy, appoint him to a church; and let’s see what emerges as he works in leadership opportunities of greater responsibility among God’s people.”
What’s going on here? This “watching and encouraging time” is a living out of I Timothy 5:22, where Paul told Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” In other words, wait, watch, be sure, be sure as you can be that an emerging spiritual leader is actually called by God, suited to the calling, and prepared in at least a minimal way to exercise ministry leadership.
So George, you have been in this journey now for several years. (I want to pause here to say thank you to you as a congregation for the way that you have walked with George through this ministry experience. You saw him as a growing Christian. You affirmed him with a Lay Minister’s license. You received him as an intern. You recommended him for Ministerial Candidacy. You have supported and encouraged him; and here he is today, taking sacred vows with God and the Church. He has had his final interview with the Ministerial Education, Guidance and Placement Committee and has been approved by the national Board of Administration of The Free Methodist Church in Canada. Lots of people have been involved. Lots of people have thought about who he is and what God is doing in his life. And now we are at this moment.)
God has been saying, “I’m calling you.” George has answered, “I am saying yes to you.” The church has been saying, “We see it and we are here to support you and to celebrate with you as you take your vows with God and the church and as we see leaders lay hands on you and bless you and confer spiritual authority upon you to exercise leadership among God’s people. In your role as a Ministerial Candidate, you have been observed and tested and now the church is ready to set you apart and to formally entrust you with ordination credentials to participate in the work of God as an ordained minister.
So what is it that The Free Methodist Church in Canada is looking for when it works with people preparing to be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament and leadership? You may respond:
• Well, that’s easy. They are looking for people who have some ministry and people skills.” Of course.
• They are looking for people who have some capacity to lead and administer.” Yes, that is also true.
• They are ensuring that a candidate has received training in the disciplines of biblical studies and theology, and have grasped at least the basics of the faith. Yes. This is necessary.
• They are looking for people who have some ability to study, to preach and teach God’s Word.” Yes, that’s also important.
In the discerning process, spiritual leaders are looking for at least minimums in all of these areas, but there is also another dimension that they are watching and that is for evidence of godliness in the life and character of the candidate.
In Titus 1:5-9, the Apostle Paul lists 17 qualities that Titus was to look for in the lives of people who would give spiritual leadership in the church. Now before we read the passage, one needs to recognize that in one verse the term “elder” is used; in another verse the term “overseer” is used; and in some footnotes even the term “bishop” is used. Biblical scholars see these as interchangeable in their meanings—in other words, Paul is talking about the qualities that need to be in evidence in the lives of people who are set apart for spiritual leadership in the Body of Christ.
Paul writes, 5“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every time, as I directed you. 6An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, one who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
What shall we say about what God is looking for in spiritual leaders? I have spent some time with this list and thought about these 17 qualities, grouped them into 4 clusters, and developed a question for each cluster. Here’s what it seems to me the passage is saying to the Church.
1. Cluster #1. Ordained Ministers must be people who have proven that they can lead at home, and not only lead, but lead well spiritually. What is written in verse 6 begs the question: “Ordained minister, what would the people at home say about you? They see you at your best and they see you at your worst, and everything in between. What would they say about you?”
Verse 6 says that you must be “blameless” in the eyes of the people at home. Now, we need to pause and think about what it means to be “blameless.” Paul says that spiritual leaders need to be blameless…not faultless! There is a vast difference. Faultless people are perfect. Blameless people know how to live wholesomely. They recognize that when they make mistakes and overreact or perhaps shirk responsibilities… they need to apologize… and to ask for forgiveness. And they do it!
Verse 6 says, “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” In other words, if ordained ministers are married, they need to have healthy marriages. If they have children, are these children wholesome? Are they following Jesus and maturing in their faith and in their relationships in life?
So the first question is, “Ordained Minister, what would the people at home say about you?”
2. Cluster #2. Ordained Ministers must be people who are mature and have the impulses of their lives under control… and there is a very good reason!! Verse 7 says, “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless…” Then the Apostle Paul lists 5 issues where carelessness and/or immaturity will ruin a person’s ministry.
• Issue #1. On the issue of getting their own way all of the time, they need to be “blameless.” They are “not overbearing.” They don’t have to win on everything. They have their pride under control. They have a capacity to listen because they recognize that God often speaks confirmation, correction and wisdom through other leaders with whom they work.
• Issue #2. On the issue of keeping their composure, they are “blameless.” They are not “not quick tempered.”
• Issue #3. On the issue of the appetites of the body, they are “blameless.” One version translates Paul’s words to say that they are not addicted to wine, and while that is important, I would like to take the liberty of making a wider, more inclusive sweep and bring attention to what I call appetites of the body. On the issue of wine they are not given to drunkenness; on the issue of personal comfort, they are not lazy or insisting on everything being convenient for them. When it comes to their sexuality, they understand themselves well enough that their relationships with the opposite gender are appropriate and above reproach. On the issue of gluttony… well, perhaps I should stop here lest I be accused of meddling! But you see the wider picture. Ordained Ministers need to be healthy and wholesome.
• Issue #4. On the issue of violence, they are “blameless.” They are “not violent.” As I was researching this verse, I came upon some material that said from time to time, there were bishops in the history of the church who used physical violence to chastise people who were out of line. Perhaps this is what Paul is talking about, but I think it also reaches past physical violence to the violence that comes with words, and the violence that can come with manipulative strategies, and the violence that can come where leaders use others to be violent on their behalf … and spiritual abuse is the result.
• Issue #5. On the issue of greed, Ordained Ministers are to be “blameless.” “They do not chase after dishonest gain.” Greed can lead to corruption. Healthy spiritual leaders recognize that all money is God’s money. True, our ministers need enough to live modestly; but they recognize that ministry is not about making money and getting wealthy. It is living contentedly with the healthy understanding of what is “enough.”
3. Cluster #3. Ordained Ministers must be worthy of respect because of who they are. They must love people. Their love must be genuine. People know when a person authentically loves them and they know when people are phony.
Sometimes people tie respect to authority; and in spiritual leadership, there are two kinds of authority—positional authority which comes with a title, and relational authority that comes because one is respected by people.
When I was preparing this message, I came across a quote that speaks directly to what we are talking about here. The little placard said, “If you have a position, it gives you subordinates; if you are a leader, you will have willing followers.” So in Cluster 3, the issue is: Is this a person I would listen to and follow, even if he or she did not have the title?
I remember having a Ministerial Candidate in one of the churches that I served who was really struggling with this issue. He had been on the staff of the church for perhaps a couple of months and one day, he came into my office quite upset. When I asked him what was wrong, he explained that he was frustrated that the people were not calling him “pastor.” I was quiet and listened to him pour out his frustration about not being respected and not being called “pastor.” When he had finished, I said to him, “Sam (not his real name), if you genuinely love the people and faithfully live out your calling as a pastor among them, they will eventually call you pastor. If you insist that they call you pastor, they’ll probably do it, but they will wonder what’s wrong with you.”
Ordained Ministers must be worthy of respect because of who they are. Verse 8 says that “Ordained Ministers are “hospitable.” People like to be around them because they like people.
They “love what is good.” People like to be around them because they are focused on what is honorable. On the one hand, they are not critical and self-righteous. On the other hand, they are not unkind, rude or vulgar. They are good people – like Jesus was – who go about doing good.
People like to be around them because they are “self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”
Ordained Ministers must be worthy of respect because of who they are. People would respect them and follow them, even if they didn’t have the title.
4. Cluster #4. How shall we categorize what remains in verse 9? Let’s see what it says; “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Ordained Ministers must treasure God’s Word. Here is what I mean. Because it is God’s Word, they must love to study it and to preach it, and to teach it accurately and enthusiastically to those who are willing to receive it; AND, because it is God’s Word, they must also be prepared to confront those who pervert its message.
So, I say to myself and to all Ordained Ministers present: This is a moment for us to renew the vows you and I took when we were ordained. I say to you, George, these are sacred vows with God and with the Church. So before we have the vows, let’s ask ourselves these questions:
• Am I a person that the people at home would say “leads well spiritually”?
• Am I a person who has matured, and do I exercise healthy control over the impulses of my life?
• Do people respect me because of who I am? Would they still respect me if I didn’t receive a title?
• Do I treasure God’s Word, studying and teaching it with joy to those who are eager to receive it, and defending it strenuously against those who would pervert its message?
George, you come now to this moment of your ordination. It is a sacred moment and a serious moment. The Church, both this local church and the national church, has confidence in you, or you wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be here. I have been praying that this will be a moment that is deeply meaningful for you and an event that you will never forget.
May you sense the rich presence of the Holy Spirit as you step forward to take these sacred vows, with God and His people, promising that you will serve the Lord and people as a servant leader for the rest of your life.
As a follow up to Bishop Elford’s message, ministers are invited to reflect on the following guidance from The Manual of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.
CHAPTER 8: THE MINISTRY
It is biblical for the church to set apart particular persons for special tasks of leadership. Such persons bear witness to an inward call of the Holy Spirit and a confirmation of that call by the church. They are set apart by public ordination, including the laying on of hands after the pattern of the early church.
It is the long held conviction of the Free Methodist Church that both men and women are eligible to hold any office of the church, including membership on the Official Board of a local church, or to be ordained to any of the church’s ministries, or to be elected to the office of Bishop.
Both gifts and graces characterize men and women the church ordains. Gifts are special endowments of ability. Graces are special qualities of character. Both have their source in the enabling Holy Spirit. Although the church must discern who have such endowments, ordination is always first and foremost an act of God’s calling and appointment.
Ordained Free Methodist ministers may carry out their task under appointment to a particular congregation, or they may be given other assignments. In either case, their work will include preaching and teaching the Word of God, intercessory prayer, the administration of the sacraments, pastoral care, and other ministerial activities. Central to the task of the minister is the proclamation of the saving gospel and the winning of people of all ages to Christ. Because vital worship, Christian nurture, evangelistic outreach and social concern characterize a healthy church, ordained ministers commit themselves to equipping the whole body of believers to these ends.
The ordained ministry is both a calling and a profession. It is a calling in that it is a response to a divine summons. It is a profession in that this service is worked out under the direction of the church that sets ministers apart as leaders and requires accountability.
Free Methodist ministers are called to be leaders of God’s people. Leadership requires vision, a willingness to dare, an ability to move people to action and the readiness to live with the turbulence change brings. For the person called to leadership, all this is rooted in a deep love for Christ and his compassion for human need. God’s resources are abundantly available for all that embrace this task courageously and in radical obedience.
There are three stages to becoming a minister in The Free Methodist Church in Canada. The person feeling the call of God to the ministry is first licensed as a lay minister. The call is tested by service in the local church where initial training begins. Step two involves acceptance by the conference as a ministerial candidate. During this period the candidate prepares for the third step, conference membership as a commissioned minister (honorary) or an ordained minister (full).
Before detailed requirements are given for each stage in becoming a commissioned or ordained minister, in a long Methodist tradition, the following advice is given to all ministers.
¶801 ADVICE TO THE MINISTER
1. PERSONAL LIFE
Trust God. His power gives you all things necessary for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). He has not given you the spirit of timidity, but of love, power, and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). Apart from Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5). Spiritual power is mediated to you through Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, the people of God and life itself. Practice the presence of God.
Make private, family, and public prayers of adoration, confession, petition, intercession and thanksgiving a habit. Let prayer be a daily means of grace.
Fast as health permits.
Search the Scriptures systematically, using commentaries. Meditate upon what you read and put into practice what you learn.
Take every opportunity to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Form a covenant with an accountability partner to watch over your spiritual and emotional health and meet with him/her regularly.
An accountability partner is a mature, discreet Christian of the same gender, preferably outside your congregation. He/she is neither a counselor nor a spiritual director but is a trustworthy person to whom you can confidentially confess personal matters and to whom you may be accountable for progress with respect to those matters. While an accountability partner does not divulge any information to local church or conference leaders, he/she is to urge you to seek counsel (including MEGaP guidance) when circumstances warrant it.
Be faithful to your marriage vows (I Timothy 3:2). Show honour to your spouse and family in private and public. Parent your children with loving discipline (I Timothy 3:4,5). Build a healthy home life.
Be open to your peers. Seek their counsel. Meet with them periodically for prayer. Confess your faults. Share your concerns. Take courage from mutual support. Be a part of a pastoral team. Resolve to encourage them.
Develop mature friendships that are supportive of and compatible with your vocation and ministry.
USE OF TIME
Be disciplined. Live an orderly and balanced life. Manage your time well. Resist both laziness and workaholism.
Master and apply the rules of healthy living, especially with regards to eating, rest and exercise. Set an example for those you lead. Avoid substance abuse.
Listen patiently; it is more than half of good conversation. Communicate clearly, stating your opinion with tact and kindness. Cultivate a healthy sense of humour. Keep confidences.
PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Love your neighbour as yourself. Speak evil of no one. Manage your money wisely and do not borrow from parishioners. Live a simple lifestyle according to gospel values. Keep debts within bounds and model wise and disciplined spending.
Tithe as the starting point for the generous giving of your income.
Be discreet with the opposite sex, respecting physical and emotional boundaries in all relationships.
Lead your church in the ethical use of music, words and other media.
Respect your peers in ministry. Keep your ordination vows. Honour the work of your predecessors and successors. Pastoral transitions require a fresh start. It is not wise to return to your previous church to conduct weddings, baptisms, funerals, or to provide other pastoral ministry. Certainly none should occur without the knowledge and consent of your successor.
ETIQUETTE AND PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES
Own an up-to-date book on etiquette and consult it regularly so that you are aware of how to conduct yourself appropriately as a public figure. Additionally, there are guidelines available from the director of personnel’s office that you need to follow with respect to requests to officiate at marriages.
2. PROFESSIONAL LIFE
Regularly review the eight core values of The Free Methodist Church in Canada and allow them to shape your ministry of leadership.
LEADING THROUGH PREACHING AND TEACHING
Discipline yourself to uninterrupted time for study and prayer so that you come before your people adequately prepared. Seek the Lord’s help. Preaching is only effective when anointed by God’s Spirit. Use suitable Scriptures for each occasion. Prepare your messages thoroughly. Stay with your subject. Preach to the needs of the people. Expound the scriptures systematically. Seek divine leadership in choice of subjects. Consult the Christian calendar to give balance to your preaching. Communicate profound truths with simple words and speak with conviction. Practice what you preach.
Teach with clarity. Present truth in an orderly way, using a variety of methods. Give opportunity for dialogue.
Seek by preaching and teaching to bring about change in understanding and behaviour.
LEADING IN WORSHIP
Plan services of worship with care. Incorporate prayers, Scripture readings, singing, preaching, and regular observance of the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Seek a balance between ordered and spontaneous worship. Focus attention on God in all His attributes. Lead the people and teach them to worship. Be aware that you set an example by the way you worship yourself. Involve the congregation, using lay persons wisely and giving appropriate attention to the children.
Give careful thought to your pastoral prayers in advance. Deliver all prayers from your heart. Expect people to experience the presence of God. Whatever the theme of the service, always try to encourage the people before they leave.
LEADING THROUGH PASTORAL CARE AND EVANGELISM
See that attention is given to the care of your people. Balance strategic personal contact with care given through trained volunteers and/or staff. Find creative ways to ensure that a full range of pastoral care is given – e.g. visits, phone calls, cards and notes.
Give special priority to finding, befriending and introducing seeking people to Jesus. Model a personal commitment to the Great Commission yourself and see that others are trained and involved in outreach.
Ensure that attention is given to the sick, elderly, confined, and distressed. See that someone is with your people when they pass through crucial moments: the birth of a child, marriage, tragedy, the bestowment of honour, death.
Make provision for the pastoral counseling of people who seek guidance. Convey by your attitudes and words that you too are interested in their welfare. Ensure that counseling takes place in a professional manner in appropriate settings. Acknowledge the limits of your own counseling competencies/capacities and make responsible referrals when necessary, particularly with regard to legal, financial and medical matters, or other areas beyond your expertise. Interact with those under your care with honesty and love.
Be understanding. In controversy, arrange if possible, for another arbitrator/counsellor, so that you will be free to minister to both parties. This will also keep either party from accusing you of favouritism.
Maintain high professional standards. Conduct yourself always as in the presence of Christ. Do not be careless with confidentialities.
Ensure that new believers, newcomers, children and teens of the congregation are encouraged to join the church and care groups if they are available. See that membership instruction opportunities are provided regularly.
LEADING THROUGH LEADERS
The breadth and strength of any ministry is determined by the quality of its leadership. Resolve to develop Spirit-empowered, growing leaders and readily entrust responsibility to them according to their capacities of spiritual maturity, skill and availability.
Lead your leaders in planning and help them to set goals. Work to extend Christ’s kingdom. Mobilize and train your laity for ministries beyond the boundaries of your present congregation. Regularly promote the vision of starting an additional service and and/or a new congregation/church.
Oversee the administration of the church. By good administration, promote the congregation’s vision and mission, and work for harmony and growth. Do things in an orderly manner. Try, where appropriate, to make decisions in a consultative manner and to search for consensus so that different views are heard and people respected in the process.
Ensure that boards and committees meet regularly. See that your people have opportunity to discover and use their spiritual gifts and to develop ministry skills.
Share leadership and work cooperatively with both lay and ordained colleagues, respecting their different gifts, qualifications, ministries, and approach to spirituality.
Keep abreast of the activities of the major departments of your church. Have careful records kept of your ministries. Maintain and give summary reports regularly to your official board and conference leaders.
Build relationships with leaders of other churches in your community, promote good will, and seek appropriate ways to cooperate in ministry.
Cooperate with those in authority over you. Model loyalty to your denomination. See that requested reports are sent promptly. Use denominational resources. Participate in the support of CORE ministries and promote the Giving Streams and other general church ministries.