On Whether to Vote to Ordain

A conversation about a recent presbytery meeting and the ordination examinations that took place at it reminded me of one of the first ordination exams I ever witnessed.

After the trials were over I asked some older and wiser Elders for advice on how to vote regarding exams. I was particularly concerned because everyone was in agreement that one of the candidates had done a very poor job, but voting to ordain him had been pressed on the Presbytery as an “absolute necessity” and they had done so. So one of the questions I asked was “are there times when you should vote to ordain even though you aren’t convinced the man is really called to be an elder?” The advice I was given in response to my question boiled down to four principles that I have tried to apply ever since:

1) Remember that Presbyteries aren’t rubber stamp operations, we are gate-keepers, and we’ll be called to account by God for every man we let into the sheepfold. So ask yourself, “is that man a true shepherd or something else?” No church absolutely has to get someone if that someone was never really meant to be a pastor. Calling the wrong man will do them more harm than calling no one at all!

2) Anyone can graduate from seminary, my wife could graduate from seminary but she isn’t qualified or called to be a pastor. Not everyone who graduates is called.

3) If you are in doubt, ask yourself, “would I be able to stomach this man being the shepherd of my own family?” If the answer is no, don’t vote for him. Christ’s other lambs don’t deserve less than your own family!

4) Go home and read Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 [vs. 17-36] and treat those words as Christ’s advice to you.

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About Andrew Webb

Andrew James Webb, Pastor Providence PCA, Fayetteville NC. Born: July 29, 1969 Rochford, Essex England Education: MA Modern History, St. Andrews University, Fife, Scotland, 1991 M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA, 2001 Personal Details: Husband of Joy Webb, Father of Margaret (6), Victor (5), Graham (3) and Isabel (10 Mos.) Secular Work History: Upon graduation from University, I returned to the United States and worked for two Madison Ave Advertising Firms in copy writing and advertising space sales. After moving to Northern Virginia, I went into computing. I worked as a Systems Administrator in Washington D.C. for both the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) (a legal publishing firm,) and the International Republican Institute. Experience: Licensed by Potomac Presbytery, May 1997 and Philadelphia Presbytery in 1999. From 1998 to 2001 I did a three year apprentice/internship under Dr. Mark Herzer while working with the Christ Covenant church plant in Hatboro, PA. Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor. Presbytery Committees: Assistance and Membership (Philadelphia), Candidates (Central Carolina), Nominations (Central Carolina) GA Committees: Bills and Overtures, Covenant Theological Seminary Other: I have had a number of my essays on theological topics published including What is the Reformed Doctrine of Divorce? and Five Reasons Not To Go See The Passion of the Christ Why I Don't Have an English Accent: I don't have an English accent because my parents moved to New Jersey when I was six!
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6 Responses to On Whether to Vote to Ordain

  1. You bring up some excellent points. I have been to far too many Presbytery meetings where I have seen a man who is under-qualified for the Pastorate be pushed through for “practical” purposes.

  2. Wes White says:

    Andrew,

    These are very helpful bits of advice. These are things we should read about again and again because there is very rarely an examination for ordination that isn’t “necessary” in some way or when there is not significant pressure to vote to ordain the man. It is never easy to say, “no,” but it is often very necessary to do so. “Do not lay hands suddenly on any man, and do not share in other people’s sins…” (1 Tim. 5:22). In light of this verse, perhaps our starting presumption should be to oppose ordination and then let the candidate try to prove the opposite to you.

  3. Matt says:

    Andy,

    Good thoughts….

    I wonder how individual Presbyters are able to evaluate these suggestions. All 4 of these qualifications presume that we actually know the men *quite well* that we are about to vote upon. And yet I’ve been to enough PCA and OPC examinations to know that very often a candidate is brought before the Presbytery that is a virtual unknown to the majority of the men.

    As it stands, it seems to me that the OPC and PCA are basically ‘trusting’ our respective Credentials Committees to evaluate these sorts of things as it pertains to a man, before it ever comes to the floor for a vote.

    The problem of course is that there isn’t often too much ‘trust’ in these committees (depending on who mans them!).

  4. Andrew Webb says:

    Matt,

    Unfortunately I agree with your comment in regards to Candidates and Credentials committees. To often there as well, a candidate almost has to implode not to be passed on to the floor of the Presbytery.

    We seem to have adopted a view very similar to the hiring process in a large corporation, namely if the interviewer likes you, and you have the required qualifications on your resume, and you are willing to take the job for what you are paying – you’re hired!

  5. Matt says:

    Andy,

    I suppose my point really amounts to the absolute *importance* of Credentials committees in seeking to work with and ultimately evaluate a man’s call to the ministry….because, as it stands, the floor examination doesn’t seem to be terribly conducive to ascertaining a man’s call.

    IOW, the so-called internal call and external call converge most fully via Credentials, i.e. whether in committee examinations OR floor examinations.

    My question to you (or whoever gave you this 4-fold suggestion list) is…..how do you *practically* do this, if you are NOT on the Candidates and Credentials committee?

    I suspect this is *the* main reason the OPC has the unspoken rule that one needs to do a year long internship *before* seeking a call. That at least gives one session the chance to observe a man’s qualifications….and many times I think it is successful at keeping a man out of the ministry.

    I don’t mind delegating one-on-one ministerial evaluation to a smaller subset of men in the Presbytery, and then ‘trusting’ their judgment in the matter. Nothing un-Presbyterian about that! However, it’s up to the Presbytery to see that Credentials is actually doing this with men on a regular basis. The difficulty is that this takes a large amount of time to do properly.

    I’d be curious to see the way different Presbys try to tackle this problem.

  6. Pingback: PCA's Ministerial Glut - The PuritanBoard

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