Shepherds of the Flock

Shepherds of the Flock

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Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28).

I've been attending Nazarene district assemblies since shortly after my birth in 1960. One of the privileges of my current position at Trevecca Nazarene University is attending 10 - 12 district assemblies across southeastern U.S. each year. Every one of them is special. Each ordinand illustrates and endorses a connection to our core belief that God still calls, and men and women still respond, to care about and preach to the needs of a hurting world. For this, and many other reasons, the God-called minister should be held in high esteem.

Although I've been blessed to know hundreds of wonderful Nazarene ministers, I've also benefited from seeing some of the best in my own family. My father, W. Talmadge Johnson, has been an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene since 1958. My younger brother, Jeffrey Johnson, was ordained into the ministry in 1991. But the connection extends even further. Both of my grandfathers were long-time Nazarene ministers and my father's maternal grandfather helped establish the work of Nazarenes in the Northwest region of the U.S., circa 1915.

By mainline standards, our denomination is still relatively young, but now over 100 years of history give testimony to an enduring sense of faithfulness and preparation of our ministerial leaders. I believe that one of the reasons we have remained viable as a denomination is that our process allows us to help the ordination candidate balance matters of the 'head' and the 'heart.' Reaching the ordination milestone is not an easy process. Candidates are carefully screened and sometimes almost overwhelmed.

One young man was having trouble fulfilling all the ordination requirements. His lament went something like this. 'So how much longer is this gonna take? God has already ordained me. He's just waiting on you guys to do the paperwork.'

I am amazed and encouraged by the varied life stories about those who are being ordained. What seems clear is that God calls people who have experienced the blessings of good choices, and the challenges of poor ones, to ministry. God calls men and women who exude the obvious confidence of a great orator and those who identify with the stuttering Moses. God calls people when they are very young and some when they have lived a long time. But the common thread is that God calls. The Church validates that call in the ritual of ordination.

If you've never been to an ordination service at a Nazarene district assembly, these are just a few of the experiences typically shared: the congregation sings 'Holiness Unto the Lord' as the district secretary escorts the candidates (and spouses for those who are married) into the sanctuary, the congregation recites the 'Apostle's Creed,' ministers read a select portion of Scripture and the 'Theology of Ordination' from the Nazarene Manual, often the ministers' choir sings a special song, and then the general superintendent delivers the message. The ordination ritual and 'laying on of hands,' led by the jurisdictional general superintendent follows.

It is both sobering and exhilarating as the general superintendent finally declares 'I ordain thee elder/deacon in the Church of God, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Amen!' The ordinand rises in the same skin in which he or she knelt, but with a slightly different countenance. It is obvious that the 'Spirit has given witness' to what has just occurred.

The certificate of ordination presented to each ordinand represents the Church's collective signature that this person has met all the requirements and is professionally recognized as a minister of the gospel.

An ordained minister needs the support of faithful family, friends, and parishioners; typically many of these are in the audience for the service. More importantly, the minister will need their support as the weeks and months following the service unfold.

Recently, I was moved as I observed a generational 'passing of the torch.' In the early part of the ordination service in North Carolina, General Superintendent Jesse Middendorf gave recognition to retiring ministers, including Elmer Wilson. As the last of the 10 candidates was ordained that evening, the general superintendent asked Elmer to present the certificate of ordination - passing the torch - to his son, Jeff Wilson. The generational blessing wasn't just about bloodlines. It was clear that God is very much excited about the future of His Church.

So, if you are a layperson in a local Church of the Nazarene, be thankful that your church works so diligently to prepare its ministers. And if your pastor has a certificate of ordination on the wall, know that your support of his or her ministry matters in more ways than you know. It's true that God is with them on the journey but your love and friendship makes a world of difference, too.

Michael Johnson serves in the Office of the President at Trevecca Nazarene University. He is a lay member of the Tennessee District Advisory Board and attends Trevecca Community Church in Nashville.

October is Clergy Appreciation Month in the Church of the Nazarene. Clergy Development has resources available to help churches recognize men and women serving in pastoral roles at http://www.nazarene.org/global-clergy-development.

Holiness Today, September/October 2011