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Words That Need Redefining: Ordination


Issue 282

Welcome to the New Series of WORKTALKweekly
Over the next few weeks we will have a look at a few of the common words we use to describe ourselves, and see them in a different light.

# 1 Ordination

How did you mark the beginning of the job you currently do? How did your employer mark it? Usually there is some human ritual – a handshake, a welcome, a congratulation and, occasionally, even a hug – accompanied by a procedural activity such as signing a contract or an agreement. The bigger the change of role or the more of a new start you make, the greater the rituals may be but the common factor is simply the marking of a beginning point.

Somewhere along the road of history we have agreed together that when such a process takes place in the context of the church or missionary workforce, we arrange a sacred ceremony marking the solemn appointment of an individual, accompanied by promises and vows.

Implicit in this activity is the belief system which considers the embarkation on this career path as the taking of holy orders over and above managerial directives, and the ties are bound by vows over and above the binding of a contract.

The handshake is superseded by the laying on of hands and the congratulations are enriched with commissioning.

The words we use for the common beginnings are: appointment, qualification, employment and promotion. The word we use for the church ceremony is ordination. There may be commissioning or induction but ordination remains the big one.

But ordained to what? Spread good news? – aren’t we all supposed to do that? Communicate the gospel? – again; who is exempt from this task? Maybe ordination involves prayer, fasting, preaching, teaching, pastoring and a whole range of other things. Undoubtedly it does. But, should this then imply that the rest of us are now free to ignore such activities? Is ordination just another name for outsourcing our spiritual responsibilities to a few enthusiastic, committed individuals who will run the Kingdom of God on our behalf while we get on with the rest of our lives?

Surprisingly the word ‘ordination’ and the verb ‘to ordain’ do not occur in the New Testament (some words are translated ‘ordained’ but this is not their actual meaning).

The New Testament, itself a beginning point, contains numerous examples of appointments, career changes, joining Jesus’ team and being chosen. The common characteristics of these events are found in prayer, laying on of hands and receiving spiritual gifting. Undoubtedly, such new beginnings are seen as extremely important.

So, is ordination to church work more sacred than to medicine, the law, the construction industry, IT, media, education or minicab driving? No. Is it more important? No.

You are ordained into the work you do because your appointment, as a Christian, is to be and to do everything that a Christian should be and do where you are. Your orders are as holy and your calling is as high as any- one else’s. Your responsibility is as great as that of any other Christian. Your context, field and toolkit may be different but you are ordained into your work. You may like to consider that this week. You may like to ask some people to lay hands on you and pray that you can discharge your calling where you are each day. You may want to reflect on what a great privilege your ordination bestows upon you. You may want some help in figuring out how to work this out in practice. That is why WORKTALK exists. Most of all, you may want to replace the misleading concept of elite ordination with a reality word,  which I suggest to you more accurately describes our corporate status –  co-ordination. Let the team work begin.


John 15: 15-16

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

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Series: Words That Need Redefining
Module: 7
Season: Beginning
Daily Guide: No

Tags: appointment, commissioning, ordination, team

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Geoff Shattock

© Copyright 2020 Geoff Shattock

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