A Few Thoughts about Ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention

February 16, 2019

The recent articles from the Houston Chronicle about sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are convicting to me. What can I and others do better to prevent such abuse? How can we better serve, help, and show compassion to the victims?

I know many of you readers are not a part of the SBC, but please allow me to have this “family” conversation. It is too great of an issue to treat lightly.

One of the issues we have in SBC life is how we license and ordain pastors and staff. Each local church has the authority to ordain and license people because of our belief in the autonomy of the local church. In many cases, because our ordination process is so weak, we “bless” new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at worst.

Here are some of my thoughts on how we ordain, and how we could do so differently, particularly to protect our churches from predators and others who are not fit for vocational ministry.

  • Autonomy is not an excuse for irresponsibility. Every local church that licenses and ordains has a heavy and sobering responsibility. We need to examine our processes and how we communicate those processes to the full congregation. No church should vote on a candidate until they are confident the candidate has been vetted in every way possible.
  • Background checks should become normative in the ordination process. Some of you may be shocked to learn we likely have more churches doing background checks on church volunteers than we do ordination candidates. And let me confess my own neglect. I have sat on many ordination councils, and I have never asked to see a background check of the candidate. In fact, I doubt a background check was done, because it was not mentioned. Shame on me.
  • We should not assume the ordination of a pastor or staff member from another church is sufficient for our church. When churches call a pastor or pastoral staff member, that person should be examined as if a new ordination is taking place. Unfortunately, we cannot always have confidence that the ordaining church did its homework.
  • Leaders should insist on vigorous examinations of candidates for ordination. Our polity does indeed advocate local church autonomy, as I note above. But our structure should not be an impediment for good practices. The influence of leaders is often more powerful than the rules of a structure. Leaders, like me, should speak up more clearly and more quickly.

Solving the ordination problem alone will not solve the sexual abuse problem. But it’s a start. Many predators in the pulpits and on church staff got there because we did not ask the right questions nor put them through thorough screening processes.

It’s time to change.

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74 Comments

  • I have been an ordained minister for 14 years. I Pastor a small Baptist Church. We were members and actively involved in a rather larger church before being called to preach the gospel. They currently are seeking a senior pastor of which I have inquired. Why would I need to have an outside group in an association of whom have no idea of who I am check my background? I have known most of these people for many years. They know me better than anyone. I do know they have inquired of an association for advice. Today, it is recommended that called preachers have degrees hanging on a wall. Totally disagree! I believe this is the big problem today. Go to college. Get a degree. Land a big church (of which many family members, friends, and acquaintances), and you are set for life. Big salaries and we’ll taken care of. Give God the glory where it belongs. Not man!

  • John Robert Stewart says on

    I have been an ordained minister for 14 years. I Pastor a small Baptist Church. We were members and actively involved in a rather larger church before being called to preach the gospel. They currently are seeking a senior pastor of which I have inquired. Why would I need to have an outside group in an association of whom have no idea of who I am check my background? I have known most of these people for many years. They know me better than anyone. I do know they have inquired of an association for advice. Today, it is recommended that called preachers have degrees hanging on a wall. Totally disagree! I believe this is the big problem today. Go to college. Get a degree. Land a big church (of which many family members, friends, and acquaintances), and you are set for life. Big salaries and we’ll taken care of. Give God the glory where it belongs. Not man!

  • Recommended content or questions for Ordination Council?

  • Stephen P Gray says on

    For sure the Apostle Paul would never have past a background check. He came in demonstration of the spirit and power . Adrian Rogers himself said “if you could see the darkness in my heart you would not let me be your pastor . It’s by God’s grace alone that I am what I am.” He was sent by others that could not deny the call of God on his life. God places men in the body as it pleases Him. And they are not men pleasers .JESUS said pray that God send labors into the harvest. Ask God.

  • How do we avoid or reduce the possibilities of lawsuits claiming libel if a database is created that lists people charged or accused of abuse.

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