I've been cogitating some recent posts on ordination by Tony Jones and a few other people. Tony is basically arguing that the ordination process creates sort of a ministry caste system, or at least a set of ministerial elitists which is unhealthy for the church. Matt Cleaver has been arguing for a while that the seminary system is in need of a major overhaul because of its tendency to be out-of-touch with the realities of parish ministry.
This summer my own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)--yes we have parentheses because they're cool--will be considering the matter of ordination, and I'm really excited about what's happening.
Our current system, which has been in place for ages, is that there are basically two levels in the "Order of Ministry." There are Ordained ministers and there are Licensed ministers (you may know them by the term "Lay Ministers." In this system a Master of Divinity from a seminary is a non-stated but de facto requirement for ordination. All those who are unable, for whatever reason, to seek a seminary education are allowed the option of licensure. Licensed ministers have most of the same priviledges as ordained ministers but have limitations. In most of our regions (you may know them by the terms "presbytery" or "conference") there is a bit of an educational process that people must go through to obtain licensure. Additionally, those in seminary but not yet ordained are usually granted licensure.
Under the proposed resolution we'll be changing this structure of the Order of Ministry. There will be two paths to ordination, a seminary track and a lay track. There will also be licensure or "lay" minister status as well.
Some pastors aren't so happy with the proposal, feeling that the granting of ordination for those who haven't finished seminary will in some way cheapen their ordination. I'm sure some are wondering why they went to seminary if there were going to be another option given. And I must admit I had a few of these feelings, too, but only at first.
Our denomination, like many others, is facing a ministerial shortage which will only increase in coming years if major changes aren't made. Additionally, I've witnessed several licensed ministers in my time who were every bit as good a pastor as, and often times even better than, some pastors I know who went through the seminary process. There are many who receive the call and answer in later life, there are those who have no ability to pay for seminary, and there are those for whom seminary may just not be right. I think we should find a way to give recognition of their call-of-God, too. And I also support the resolution because it creates an avenue where congregations seeking pastors will know if the person achieved ordination through the seminary track or through the lay track.
In addition to pragmatics, this is also a highly theological issue. The major objection raised by pastors regarding the "cheapening" of their ordinations/seminary educations is exactly the kind of elitism Tony wrote about. And whatever happened to the "priesthood of all believers?" Whom we choose to ordain and the requirements we place upon them speaks a lot about what we believe regarding whom can recieve and answer the call of God. Do we believe that God only ministers in and through those who've achieved academically? Or do we believe there might be another way? This resolution still requires study and training. Each region will be given the responsibility of developing an educational system to train up and teach these non-seminary-going pastors. That may be a little frightening to some, and it will likely lead to a bit of inconsistency in training competency (since no doubt some regions will take this more seriously than others), but implementation of such a process says we believe God can call people to pastoral ministry even if they aren't able to complete the process desired by the academy. It also says we believe the local church and the church catholic has a responsibility to train up ministers from within ourselves.
This July I think, I hope, change in the Order of Ministry will sweep through our denomination, and with it the Holy Spirit might finally have a chance to breathe new life into us.