By In Theology, Wisdom

Selecting men for ordination

There are a couple of different situations in which a church (and in particular the Minister and Elders of a church) might find themselves needing to train and select men for ordained Eldership. Perhaps there’s an older man in the church who looks (and lives) like the kind of guy who could serve as an Elder. Or perhaps there’s a (younger?) guy in the church who aspires to serve as a Minister, or an evangelist, or a missionary, or some other role in the body of Christ for which ordination is normally required.

In both cases, the initial reaction from the existing Elders and the congregation should of course be great enthusiasm, great encouragement, and so on. For even if the guy is currently not ready for the role, it’s nonetheless a fantastic blessing to have people either growing towards the grey-haired maturity that makes ordained Eldership appropriate or aspiring to the life of Christian service that makes ordination necessary.

However, it needs to be emphasised at the outset that the role is a demanding one, and that (especially in the case of those aspiring to any kind of teaching ministry) a great deal of training is likely to be required.

In order to clarify the nature of the demands upon a man’s lifestyle, understanding, orthodoxy, and so on, it can be helpful to have some questions to think about, both for the man himself and also for discussion among the existing leadership team and the broader congregation.

Douglas Wilson’s Mother Kirk contains a hepful set of questions for prospective Elders and their wives. Here’s another set of questions, adapted from Wilson’s, but designed specifically for younger men who are not yet married but who are keen to explore the possibility of ordained ministry at some point in the future.

It should be emphasised that these questions are not just a box-ticking exercise. The task of assessing a candidate for ordained ministry is not completed simply by emailing them a link to these questions and encouraging them to take a look sometime. These are questions that are designed to explore the implications of the necessary Scriptural qualifications for ordained ministry, and they must therefore be taken very seriously. It’s perfectly possible that, having reflected honestly and prayerfully on them, either the candidate himself or the existing leadership team may conclude that a promising-looking man is not in fact qualified for ordained ministry, or at least that he’s not likely to be qualified for several years.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that many enthusiastic young men express a desire to serve in a capacity that requires ordination some years before they are ready for it, and this desire is a very good thing. Indeed, if a man in his early 20s felt a calling to be (for example) an evangelist, it’d be great for him to talk to his Minister and Elders about it, and though he obviously wouldn’t be ready to be ordained for several years they wouldn’t want to discourage him from pursuing a course of study and a programme of personal development in godliness and maturity that would equip him for such service in a few years time.

In other words, questions like these are to be taken with the utmost seriousness in seeking to decide on a candidate’s suitability for ordained ministry, but they’re not to be used as a stick for beating up enthusiastic younger men simply because they’re not yet the finished article.

With those caveats in mind, here are a couple of relevant biblical texts, followed by a list of questions designed to probe their implications.

Titus 1:5-9

“5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you – 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

1 Timothy 3:1-12

“1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”

1. Have you committed any public sins in the last five years that would cause a serious reproach to Christ, his church, or the gospel if they were to come to light?

2. Do you hold any theological views which might bring you or the church under reproach?

3. Are you sexually pure? Have you used pornography in the last five years? Do you ever allow yourself to fantasize about sex?

4. Are there any areas of life that are normally lawful for Christian, but in which someone could rightly accuse you of excess (eg alcohol consumption, devotion to sport, smoking, etc)?

5. Are you prone to great emotional highs and lows?

6. Would others say you are judicious in the advice you give, or are you prone to extreme advice and overreaction?

7. Do you manage your personal finances with prudence? Do you have any substantial unsecured debts? Could you list your major monthly outgoings and sources of income? Are the latter sufficient to cover the former?

8. In what ways are you planning for your own (and your potential future family’s) long-term needs (marriage, children, old age, etc)?

9. Do other people respect you? Why or why not?

10. Are you ready to share your time and resources with strangers? Do guests enjoy visiting your home? Are you able to handle unexpected inconveniences graciously, or do you find them too stressful?

11. Are you able to teach with clarity to Christians and non-Christians with different degrees of understanding and maturity?

12. Can you discern and refute theological error readily?

13. Do you have a solid grasp of the teaching of the Bible and the major themes of Christian theology? Could you summarise the content of every book of the Bible? Could you give a short, off-the-cuff explanation of important Christian doctrines?

14. Have you been drunk in the last five years? Do you “need” an alcoholic drink after work to unwind? If other Christians knew the frequency and volume of alcohol you drink, what would they think?

15. Occasional feasting aside, would others consider you a glutton?

16. Are you ever given to violent outbursts? Have you been in a physical fight in the last five years? Whose fault was it?

17. Are you argumentative or ready to find fault?

18. Do you often think of how you can acquire more money? Do you find it easy to be content with having less than others?

19. Based on how you exercise stewardship of your own resources, would others trust you to manage their resources (eg tithes and offerings)?

20. When you enter a social situation, do you positively or negatively influence the spiritual and relational tone?

21. Do you tend to demand to get your own way in nonessentials?

22. Would others say you are submissive to authority and willing to defer to others?

23. Do you have a reputation for hard work, honesty, and integrity amongst others?

24. If you were to identify your greatest weaknesses as a Christian, what would you say they are? Have you seen any improvements in these areas over the last year?

25. Do you desire to serve in an ordained capacity? How would you feel if it transpired that you were not regarded as suitable for ordination?

26. Are you quick to speak, or are you able to restrain yourself where appropriate?

27. What percentage of the Bible have you read in the last year? How many times have you read the whole Bible in the last five years?

28. When, how, and for how long do you pray?

29. Would you like to be married? If you are already dating or courting someone, have you talked to her about your aspiration to ordained ministry? What was her reaction?


2 Responses to Selecting men for ordination

  1. Steve, great article. I particularly loved the list, even if somewhat painfully so. Do you have scripture references for these questions? I can think of the references for a fair number, but not for everything. The reason I ask is because often in jail, I get somebody who wants to go straight from trusting Christ to leadership in the church, and this would be a handy resource to work through with some of those guys, to help them see that their real need is to mature and become a faithful member of their local church.

    • Great to hear about your prison ministry, Josiah. I thought about suggesting Scripture references, but decided instead just to quote the two most significant passages, as many of the requirements arise from a range of scriptural considering including both these and other texts. It might even be helpful to encourage a potential candidate to identify himself some of the relevant biblical texts for each question, as a way of encouraging serious engagement with the issues. I do think it’s good to talk in a really clear-headed, man-to-man way, pulling no punches about the seriousness of these requirements. Much better than to give a man the misleading impression that he might be ready very soon when in reality church office might be 10 years down the line.

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