Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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Qualifications for the Ministry

I asked some people to imagine that they were on a committee that sets the standards for ordination. Here are the results, with my crackpot ramblings as usual.

82% said:

Candidates must exhibit a calling from God, as evidenced by special talents that are relevant to their ministry.

Well, I think this is obvious and essential. On one level, it is like saying that concert pianists must have an aptitude for music.

71% said:

Candidates must be able to give a systematic summary of their faith, and they must be able to defend it biblically and historically.

This also makes obvious sense to me. The primary function of ordained clergy is to publicly defend the faith and edify the faithful; they should be able to demonstrate that they possess this skill to some degree or the other from the outset.

66% said:

Candidates must serve as interns under the supervision of experienced clergy.

This makes good, practical sense. This gives the new minister the opportunity to learn from more experienced ministers. Even a fool learns from his own mistakes, but a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. It is much more pleasant to make fewer mistakes. So an internship or some form of mentoring relationship is very wise.

61% said:

Candidates must be examined and approved by a committee of clergy.

This is also sensible and realistic. Members of the clergy know from experience what it takes, and they can discern which candidates will succeed and which would be better off directing their talents to other pursuits.

Or they might be able to help the candidate discern their true talents and calling, and direct them to a more appropriate form of ministry.

61% said:

Candidates must have a seminary degree from an accredited seminary. (This typically includes training in the Bible, theology, church history, counseling, ethics, church administration, and related topics.)

Believe me, seminary is definitely not fun. Sometimes it feels like the goal of seminary is to destroy your faith. However, it has two main benefits. First, there is no better and quicker way to learn all this stuff, which is necessary in ministry. Second, to the degree to which seminary is a trial, it is also practice for ministering in a hostile world. The Holy Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness to prepare for His ministry, and the Holy Spirit sends us into seminary to prepare for ours.

45% said:

Candidates must begin by being sponsored by their church and endorsed by their pastor.

It seems to me that if a person cannot get the backing of their church and their pastor, it might indicate that they do not have the people-skills they need for ministry, or it might indicate that they aren’t really called. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, because sometimes there are other factors at work.

42% said:

Candidates must be examined and approved by a committee of lay people.

Since clergy work mainly with lay people, it seems to me that it is important to have candidates screened by lay people.

39% said:

There can be an exception to the seminary requirement if the candidates can demonstrate that they possess equivalent expertise, gained through other academic training or life experience.

It is compassionate, in the case of candidates who are middle-aged or older, to allow them to use life-experience and other academic training as a substitute for seminary. Sometimes a person has the academic training, but not the precise degree that is required by the rules. In the Episcopal Church, it is theoretically possible to avoid seminary if you can pass what are called the canonical exams. However, I have heard that people who go through seminary generally turn out better than those who just pass the exam.

34% said:

Candidates must complete a training course about sexual abuse and undue influence.

In this litigious age, this is essential. Sometimes the denomination’s liability insurance mandates this training.