The more I ponder the arguments back and forth over ordination standards the more I realize that we are arguing complete around the real issue. We get close to it once in a while, when someone mentions the idea of trust- do we trust other congregations and other presbyteries enough to approve the people who ought to be in ordained ministry.
I’ve even talked in those terms myself, and I have come to realize that that narrower you set your boundaries for prospective officers the less likely you are to trust that others have set the same boundaries – particularly when others are open to greater theological diversity.
But here’s where I think we are still not talking about the deeper issue. The heart issue behind all of it- I don’t think we trust God with the spiritual leadership of our church.
There are two big ideas there, really. First, our ordained officers are spiritual leaders. Maybe it’s the language. Maybe it’s the process or the way that churches have come to understand the process. Or maybe it’s the sin nature. But in the times I served on nominating committees, there was little discussion about folks’ prayer life, sensitivity to the Spirit, care for others in the congregation, or spiritual gifts. It was all about skills, interests and willingness to sign on for a term.
This is where the second big idea comes in. The way I read Paul’s description of the church, God sends people with gifts to each body so that they have the parts they need. And God will pour gifts into the existing body in order to edify and build the body. To me, this means that we can trust God to send us the leaders that we need to meet the spiritual needs of the Body- including, or maybe especially, what the body needs to do the work it was called to do beyond the physical walls of the church.
Thus, I can trust that God is going to gift and raise up leaders for my church who are the women and men we need for that season. If we are truly seeking and discerning God’s will for our church, God will lead us to the elders, deacons and ministers we need. Sometimes those faces will surprise us… but wasn’t David a surprise? And Mary? We’d be hard-pressed to find leaders in the Scriptures that actually met the expectations of people in their own times and places, much less ours. So few are the ones that the people themselves would have chosen.
The question is not whether we can craft a set of rules that will point us to the right leaders for the church in this time and place. Nor whether we can trust one another to follow them.
The question is whether we trust God enough to provide the leaders we need.