There are few things I dislike more in the pastoral profession than this thing called an ordination council. I understand that there needs to be some process of evaluation for those who go into ministry – an affirmation of gifts, calling and skills. My own ordination in Texas was very fair. It was at the church where I had been an associate staff pastor for quite a while, so the leadership knew me well. They also figured that if you could survive Dallas Theological Seminary, you did not need a lot of grilling on your knowledge of Scripture.
At that time of my life, I had no anticipation that the bulk of my ministry years would be in the Evangelical Free Church – the best organization I have ever been a part of. Had I known that, I would have done my subsequent doctorate at Trinity – the EFCA school in Illinois – rather than at Dallas. And I would have done my credentialing with them. But my ordination is from the same church where Chuck Swindoll was sent out into ministry, and if I had ever been led back to the independent church movement, it was an excellent credential.
Beyond that, there is little else I can think of that I would rather NOT do than go through the fires of an ordination council. I have even hated being a part of the examining team on several occasions in the past, and I always reject offers to sit on them now.
The problem is not the worthy nature of the exercise, it is the grandstanding nature of those who are a part of the questioning “Sanhedrin.” Though it is ostensibly about examining the candidate, it seems to always turn into a “who can outshine the other by asking the most difficult theological question imaginable, thereby looking like a genius when not only the candidate has no answer, but all of the other questioners are at a total loss as well … thereby additionally causing all in the room to look at the questioner for the answer, as the questioner gloats in his extreme display of theological aptitude by enlightening all with the grand intelligence of his explanation.” Wow! So gross!
The setting for the story of Jesus answering a legal expert (one of the Sanhedrin types) with the Parable of the Good Samaritan has always reminded me of an ordination council. So let me take you through the passage by writing for you what I think was the thought process going through the mind of lawyer … the Scripture verses from Luke 10 are in italics, with the thoughts of the lawyer within < the brackets > …………..
< I am so sick of this Jesus character and the annoyance of seeing many people foolishly follow him. We need to ask him a difficult question that will catch him in his own foolish words. Okay… here is one that will surely work. >
Luke 10:25 – On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
< Haha!! Let’s see him give an answer to that one with anything but heresy! >
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
< Oh man! I didn’t ask for a question to be answered with another question! I’m the legal expert here, you’re just a hick from Galilee. Okay, I’ll play along with his game. >
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
< Wow! That was good, if I do have to say so myself! Crisp and to the point! >
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
< Well, of course I am correct; that is what I do – answer questions correctly with my deep and insightful answers. Yep, got him where I want him … now I’ll finish him off with an unanswerable question, and he’ll look like the fool that he is. >
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
< Boom! Hit that curve ball. Sucker! >
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.
< Oh dear, spare me. Another one of his intolerable stories! >
They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
< Well, of course he did. Maybe the man deserved to be robbed, being unrighteous. And the robbers might still be nearby, and a priest would make a special target for thieves, they knowing how blessed we are by God to be his special servants. This is not the problem of a priest. >
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
< Again, this is neither the problem of a Levite. Helping the man would make him unclean for his important service. Where is this story going? >
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was;
< Haha! An evil half-breed Samaritan. Now the poor guy is really in trouble! And so is the story Jesus is telling! >
and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
< What?? That’s the craziest story I’ve ever heard! This Jesus guy surely doesn’t know anything about Samaritans. Unbelievable… yes, literally unbelievable. >
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
< Forget this. I’m done arguing with this guy. I could fight about the Samaritan, but it was his story, and now his question. Gosh, everyone is looking at me for an answer. I’m out of here! >
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Now here is my story.
Once upon a time there was a guy named Dave Swacina. Sadly, he died five weeks ago. When with him in public, he could drive you crazy by wanting to help every person he met who had a need. Many of those people were dirty and scary, some were frauds. It was costly. I saw him take hundreds of dollars out of his oversized wallet to just give to people … money he’d never see again. But beyond that, he built relationships with those people; he pointed them to the greater gift of Jesus Christ. He was a good neighbor to those in need. Go and do likewise.
Amen and Amen!
Hits the nail on the head for our experience with the EFCA Council in Minnesota. It is all so unimportant to the call a pastor receives, and what we are all called to do as a Christian.
Hope you are well!
Oh Randy, I’m overwhelmed! Before I saw your last statement I was going to respond how much I loved your perspective on the Bible passage. Very clever, very insightful! But your comments on Dave took my breath away! You were absolutely right! I don’t know why God chose me to be a part of Dave’s adventure for over 43 years, but I continued to see David used in extraordinary ways in the lives of so many; especially me and the kids. There was nothing false about Dave, what you saw, what he said was absolutely who he was. Thank you so much for your kind words. I know you also are grieving the loss of a very dear, loyal friend. God bless you Randy, keep speaking the TRUTH! Margaret
Randy I have been thinking of you these past few weeks. I wish for love and compassion of the God of HOPE to envelop you and ease your sorrow and that of all who miss him.
You and Dave -separately – gave my heart some healing from indescribable trauma. By sharing some baseball tickets and having a smile and a hug at the ready (you) and by showing an interest in Daniel’s future after meeting him when we all took a WCRH road trip to West Virginia (Dave), you both made up for a lot of spiritual hurt I/we have suffered along the road.
I don’t know why God allows horrors and atrocities (or even garden variety sins and inconveniences) in this world, but I am glad that people like you are also here. Thank you for the oil and bandages, and most of all for seeing me/us lying in the ditch and not joining in on the crossing to the other side of the road.