Tony Jones: We Ordain Everyone
Has denominational ordination jumped the shark?

Do you believe in ordination? Or, more accurately stated, do you believe in denominational structures that regulate who is ordained for ministry based on prerequisites, credentials, and education?

Tony Jones, author and a leading voice of the emergent church, has started a ruckus on his blog about the legitimacy of denominational ordination after watching his friend, Adam Walker-Cleaveland, endure a slow and difficult ordination process. According to Jones, Adam has "suffered abuse" through the ordination process of his denomination. Jones wrote:

Few things piss me off as much as the sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity. When rules and regulations trump common sense, then the shark has officially been jumped.
But what gets to me even more is that bright, competent, and pastorally experienced persons like Adam continue to submit themselves to these sinful systems. They assure me that it's not for the health insurance or the pension. They do it cuz they feel "called." And if I hear another person tell me that they're sticking with their abusive denomination because, "They're my tribe," I'm gonna go postal.

Jones' frustration led him to launch an online petition calling Adam to circumvent his denomination and accept ordination by "the body of Christ."

The petition states:

Adam Walker-Cleaveland, having watched you be ritually abused by the ordination process?we beseech you to forsake ordination in said bureaucracy.And please accept the following: We, the body of Christ, hereby ordain you as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, and we grant you all of the rights and responsibilities thereto. May God bless your ministry.

In a follow up post, Jones outlines some of his own thinking about ordination. Referring to the practice in his church, Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, he says:

We ordain everyone. If you want to be ordained to perform a wedding, or to be a lawnmower repairman, we'll ordain you to that ministry.
This is not to vaunt everyone to a high position, but to subvert and deconstruct the very notion of ordination. It is NOT like what John Wesley did (although there are some interesting parallels) or like what the fundamentalists did or the Lutherans or the Calvinists. We ordain everyone, and I started an online petition to ordain Adam, to be ironic. It's to point up what I consider to be the arbitrariness of the bureaucratic systems, and, to be honest, the tax benefits, of ordination. In other words, this is the opposite of a YoungLife leader who writes away to some dude to get ordained for the housing allowance write-off. This is, instead, to show how that entire system leads to such ridiculousness.

I realize that both Jones' style and theology is a lightning rod for some Urbanites. But he is opening the floodgates on a very relevant question. What is ordination? And what makes an ordination legitimate?

May 11, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 43 comments


December 26, 2009  1:57pm

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Colin Thornby

May 29, 2009  2:28am

It seems useful here to think about the distinction between ordination and licencing. This is informed, I admit, by my denominational background (Anglican in Australia) where there are separate processes for the two. Ordination might be thought of as the 'spiritual' bit, and 'licencing' the practical bit. Ordination recognises the person's call to ministry, licencing allows them to live out that call in a particular ministry in a particular place at a particular time. Both require discernment, of course. Conflation of the two is inevitable, but not necessarily helpful. I imagine there are any number of people who are called and could be ordained, but might not be licenced in particular situations. My understanding of ordination is that it is within something - the body of Christ, and the body needs to recognise that particular calling. We're all speaking from particular cultural positions where ordination means setting apart which means setting above - what if it meant something else?

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May 25, 2009  5:58am

Maybe Adam is facing obstacles due to his views on things. For example his view that maybe the bible should be put away in order to embrace homosexuals. You do the math...

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Sterling Fritz

May 20, 2009  9:45pm

At first I did not understand how the young man, Adam, went to Princeton and received an MDiv degree and still was being asked by his judicatory to take at least eight core seminary courses to be ordained. I have since found out that Princeton allows students to craft their own course selections based on their personal preferences. I am going to make a big assumption that Adam did not use good judgment in selecting his courses and that he neglected to take some basic core courses that any student preparing for ordained ministry should be required to take. What is sad is that this young man spend three or four years at an outstanding seminary and may have not taken advantage of increasing his biblical scholarship and practical ministry knowledge. I believe that the real problem is that students often do not have interaction with a judicatory until after they graduate from a seminary. The United Church of Christ in-care process tries to address this by requiring students on an ordained ministry track to have an in-care relationship with a local congregation and a local judicatory throughout their seminary process. As someone who serves on a judicatory board, my prayer is that the ordination process would be an affirmational and supportive process, not a process of creating barriers to entry. Ordination should be the culmination of a shared journey between the called person and the greater church.

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Ed Brenegar

May 18, 2009  7:29pm

The ordination issue doesn't end when a pastor is ordained and installed. It continues throughout his or her ministry. It is not a once done, always done. It requires annual compliance with the standards of ordination. It is a relationship of accountability. As a PCUSA minister for 28 years, and one who has served primarily outside traditional parish roles, I find great value in being ordained. I am required every year to submit a report on my compensation and my ministry to my presbytery. That accountability forces me to realize that I am not an independent contractor free to do whatever I decide God has called me to do. I am under obligation to function as a servant of Christ in compliance with the standards set by our Book of Order. As illogical or antiquated as they may seem, I believe they are for our benefit. What I've discovered is that our system of ordination is burdensome to those who believe that Christian discipleship and ministry is a function of personal preference. Our tradition says is that it is the church that confirms the call through the ordination process. It happens with the pastor nominee, the church and the presbytery. At its most basic level, it is for the benefit of the pastor and the congregation to protect them from too quick, emotionally manipulated decision-making processes. It may not be perfect, but it does force a seriousness about call that is refreshing, I find. What it tends to do is weed out those whose sense of call is for their own personal spiritual validation. To be ordained means that we are no longer our own. And it is the Body of Christ through the institutional structure of the church which validates that call. If there is no structure, there is no accountability. As one who is about as non-institutionally oriented as you can find in the PCUSA, I do prefer our call system from the kind of arbitrary ones in other traditions.

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Ed Ingram

May 18, 2009  3:04pm

For the record, I am a pastor and a shepherd, and qualified leaders have confirmed that. In light of Paul's comments let me clarify: My comment on individual calling was not to say an individual claims power to do whatever he wants. All I was trying to say was if the person being discussed felt called to go through this ordination process, that is more important and "trumps" whatever opinion I or others may have here in blogosphere - not all leadership in general. I'm not trying to make some grand theological statement or anything, and that's exacly my point here. He should go through with what he feels God is calling him to do, irregardless of what I (or other bloggers) think about it. I don't think any of us on these comments,Paul, are the "qulified leadership" that you are talking about. And of course I agree that respected leaders and qualified leaders in this situation should inspect and affirm that call. And if that's not happening fairly as Jones claims, then I trust God will lead this person appropriately as to what to do. That's all I was saying.

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David Lovestrand

May 17, 2009  7:03pm

If Tony objects so heatedly to demoninational ordination, why did he accept it for himself?

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Wayne Park

May 17, 2009  3:17pm

I think Bill in comment #1 has a point. While Jones is coming from a place of anger, to call the institution of ordination a "sinful system" is just the polemical tone of another self-proclaimed emergent prophet. Please.

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May 14, 2009  11:23pm

I really like Tony Jones, but I do have to disagree with him about this. I'm a firm believer in the priesthood of all believers, yet denominations do have the right to lay down certain rules to make sure that they're putting a qualified person into a pastor's position.

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