Does “a rose by any other name” sound as sweet? Synod 2012 agreed with the Candidacy Committee that there is a more fitting name for those ordained via Article 23 of the CRC Church Order. The office formerly known as “ministry associate” is now known as “commissioned pastor”.
Those acquainted with CRC history know that the office had an earlier name, “evangelist”. The genesis of the office was the recognition or belief that it was appropriate for the church to recognize through “ordination” the work of those who serve the church alongside of pastors, elders and deacons in the particular work of “evangelism”, or church planting. Through the past four decades this office has broadened, evolved, and served to allow a variety of church staff to be ordained to particular ministries. The guideline synod has adopted is that the ministries performed must be natural “extensions” of the work of Minister of the Word. We are currently moving toward (if we are not already there) the recognition of two cadres of pastors in the CRC.
The first cadre, labeled Minister of the Word, has the basic requirement of a formal theological education, as expressed through an M.Div degree. Persons ordained into this cadre can serve denomination wide, in a variety of roles. The second cadre, now labeled Commissioned Pastor, has no consistent or formal education requirements – it is up to each classis and local ministry to decide and discern what sorts of training are necessary for a given candidate. Persons ordained into this cadre can serve, by definition, in a specified local ministry as designated by a job description approved by their classis.
In both cadres, “ordination” is a deep value: all want to honor as “commissioned by God and His church” those who are set apart for ministry. The current trend of treating persons in official ministry as mere employees is something most want to correct. The answer to our puzzlement regarding two cadres of pastors can’t be to “not bother with ordination”. Yet how do we handle confusion and unintended consequences of maintaining two cadres of pastors?
Some celebrate the development of a second cadre (i.e commissioned pastors), convinced that the recognition of grass root, contextualized leadership is a great blessing to the church. Some lament this development, convinced that the church is increasingly being served by persons (i.e. commissioned pastors) who have been insufficiently trained and vetted. Especially as we have given commissioned pastors more and more roles to fill, including use as solo pastors in emerging and organized churches, this concern has been voiced.
How can the church best balance the concern for consistent formal theological education and the demonstrated desire and concern for contextualized and localized leadership? How can the church appropriately make traditional theological education a requirement, or should it be only a preferred option? How can the church honor those who serve as pastors, while still insisting that they pursue knowledge, wisdom, and even education?
Your thoughts are welcome.