Our Baptist polity tells us that each of us has responsibility in the work of God’s kingdom. We best know this principle by the phrase “the priesthood of the believer.” It is a powerful reminder that we can never be content to rely on another group of believers to shoulder exclusively the work that the Holy Spirit gives all of us to do.
And yet there is also a sense in which we recognize as God’s people how some among us have been uniquely gifted with talents and abilities that enable them to lead the rest of us in this vital work. That is why we have a class of folk we call “clergy” who are entrusted with an extra measure of responsibility in order to ensure that the church lives into its holy calling.
In a previous day when the masses were illiterate, God’s people relied on those who were learned, knowledgeable, and erudite (the etymological definition of clergy) to help them hear God’s Word so that they could in turn do it. If there is any transfer to our day, clergy bear the burden of “reading the times and seasons” and applying divine truth to what they discover so that the rest of us might follow in faith.
Fortunately, our church is blessed with a wonderfully gifted staff. You know this to be the case, especially after these last two months that I’ve been away. They have stepped in admirably and have kept the level of inspiration where it needs to be so that all the saints might be equipped for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
This month we will have the privilege of recognizing their gifts and calling through a joint service of licensing and ordination. On August 18, at 4 p.m., we will ordain Ben Winder and license Joel Burks, Amy Hirsch, Sharon Howard, Tim Sanderlin, and Mary Splawn to the gospel ministry. This special service will be our way of confirming the obedience we have seen displayed by them and celebrating the good future God has for them to know in ministry both in our church and wherever God might lead them to serve.
Some may ask about the difference between ordination and licensing. Essentially, licensing is the first step in the journey of a candidate’s gaining local church standing for ministry. Both presume a divine calling to such a work and evidence of gifts and character that befit a person in that role. Ordination involves the attainment of a theological degree and a period of time in actual congregational ministry. While some of the group we are licensing meet these criteria, we don’t want to put them in a position where their future opportunities in ministry might be limited by congregations that don’t view ordination in the same way as our church.
I think it’s appropriate that our church hold such a service as we approach the culmination of our 75th Anniversary celebration. God has richly blessed us over the years with talented staff, some of whom we have brought back to lead us in worship over the past twelve months. We can all look forward to how this present group will carry on that signal leadership function so that in the days ahead we might together pool all of our abilities and calling to advance the cause of Christ both here in Mountain Brook and “to the ends of the earth.”