By Nate Adams
This past month our family gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin for my middle son Noah’s ordination into pastoral ministry. It was my privilege to deliver the “charge to the candidate,” something I felt I had been doing to Noah all his life, first as a boy, then as a teenager and young man, but now specifically as a Baptist minister of the gospel.
Calvary is my mom’s home church, and the location of my father’s funeral service almost 13 years ago. I wore one of Dad’s ties into the pulpit that evening, and gave another to Noah, reminding him that he represents a third generation of ministry in our family. I’ve known some of the church members there at Calvary for more than 40 years, and I watched gratefully as some of them, and then some of their children, came down front to lay hands on Noah and to pray for him. Needless to say, it was a very special evening.
The week after Noah’s ordination, I received an e-mail survey from an associational missions strategist in Kentucky who is doing research on pastoral ordination in Southern Baptist churches. The introduction to the survey stated that it was being precipitated by a “significant discussion concerning SBC ordination practices,” stemming from a recent report in the Houston Chronicle regarding sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, some by ordained pastors.
It calls for celebration, yes, but also ongoing accountability.
The survey asked each participant to reflect on his own ordination experience, and whether it included certain elements. While I had to reflect back more than 25 years, I quickly recognized in the survey’s questions many elements that my ordination process included, but some that it did not.
For example, my ordination council consisted of ordained men from multiple churches, and they asked me questions about the Bible, and about The Baptist Faith and Message, and about my views on specific doctrines. They asked questions about my experience in ministry, though most of them had observed that first-hand for years, and about my wife’s commitment to ministry.
I do not, however, recall any questions or conversation about sexual purity, past or present. I do not recall questions or conversation examining potentially personal or selfish motivations or expectations for ministry. The survey helped me think about the benefits of including those elements in an ordination process.
Perhaps most thought-provoking to me was the survey’s question asking whether members of my ordination council had ever followed up with me to see how I was doing in ministry. My dad was on my ordination council, so I did have that follow-through and accountability. Others were friends and acquaintances for years to come. But there was no formal follow-up, and I had to admit it sounded nice to get an occasional call from someone on my ordination council, checking in on me and helping rekindle and sustain my call to ministry.
Sadly, since that wonderful, affirming, inspirational time of my ordination, I have come in contact with pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, financial impropriety, deceit or greed that was destructive to their church, child abuse, and even one who underwent operations to change his sexual identity.
So as we ordained my son this past week, I was reminded that ordination is not only a time of great celebration for the church, and affirmation of God’s calling on someone’s life. It is also a time of careful examination, scrutiny, and ongoing accountability, not just for the benefit of the ordaining church, but for the long-term good and protection of all the churches in that man’s future.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.