On Sunday, December 10 we had a special service for family and close friends of seven staff members who were ordained and commissioned as pastors at Living Word. In the past, when we have ordained a staff person it was a very small and private occasion with family and a few friends. This time, because we were ordaining six people and commissioning one person, we had a larger event in our Life Center.
Pastor Aaron and I, with the guidance of our elders, designed our ordination process and service. We had a wonderful time ordaining these staff members.
In the past, the pastoral team at Living Word was small – usually two or three staff members who had the title, role, and responsibilities of being a pastor.
Many of our other senior staff were called directors of ______ (small groups, women’s ministry, spiritual formation, missions, and so on). Living Word was actually in the minority of churches in this approach. In most other evangelical churches, these staff would have been known as pastors. We called them directors.
Early in 2017 we began the process of preparing to ordain six of our senior staff members to the role of pastor and commission one person.
* Our elders (and church board) determined the qualifications that were required for this role.
* We had conversations with the candidates.
* They submitted reflections on their theological beliefs.
* We had great times of reflecting together on the meaning of the pastoral call and vocation.
* The elders joyfully affirmed these staff members, not only as ministry directors, but as pastors of Living Word.
* We designed the service and held it on December 10.
NOTE: Living Word, as a local church, has the legal authority to ordain people to the pastoral ministry. We have the spiritual authority to do this as well.
Gordon Carpenter, Ned Keene, Steve Grames, John Hilliard, Garrett Lowe, and Chris Smith were ordained as pastors. They all have graduate education (and theological, ministerial training) and proven track records of faithful and fruitful ministry. They are all in biblical/theological alignment with Living Word, have integrity of character, and were already involved in many things that are traditionally part of the pastoral role. We will have our webpage updated with their new roles early in 2018.
In addition, Connie Milchling was commissioned and set apart for pastoral responsibilities. The Constitution of Living Word affirms that only men may be in a role as an ordained pastor. Connie is in agreement with that, and she appreciates the many ways she is included as a significant part of our leadership and pastoral ministry teams. There is actually a legal (and religious) category of being commissioned or licensed to the ministry of the gospel that many people have in the United States. They are not pastors, but they are highly involved in the ministry of advancing the good news of Christ. That turned out to be the way for us to affirm and maximize Connie’s gifts and heart.
We had a second reason for ordaining these staff members. Not only did we want to bring our church practice into alignment with the majority of the evangelical church in North America, we had a practical reason for this as well.
Living Word is a VERY large church. Over 3,000 (and probably more) adults consider Living Word their church home. We have 2,000-2,200 adults in attendance on most Sundays. The pastoral needs of our congregation are far too great for only two or three pastors to meet those needs. (Wow, have we ever been experiencing that in recent months!)
With our new pastors, we are now much better positioned to provide the quality pastoral care and service our congregation needs with this expanded pastoral team.
Actually, most of those on this team were already functioning in many of these pastoral ministries, they just were not known as pastors. Therefore, when someone needed a pastor, because these staff members didn’t have that title or position, we were not able to utilize their ministry in the way we needed to. Now we can.
This team, throughout 2017, has been doing a great deal of pastoral care, making hospital and home visitations, serving communion in various settings, and beginning to help out with weddings and funerals. They all have various teaching ministries as well.
I am personally delighted to have my missional friends and colleagues to work alongside Pastor Aaron and myself to serve the growing needs of our beautiful church.
It may take a little time to get used to saying Pastor Ned or Pastor John or … to be honest, most of the time everyone is fine with you calling us just by our first name. We are all here to be your servants and to empower you for partnership in the purposes of God. In the long run, you are going to have quality pastoral ministry when you need it, and that is what matters.
Would you pray for your pastoral team? Encourage them. (Give them a little, or a lot, of love as well.)
And for that matter, I ask the same for our entire staff.