1) The early church worked out their leadership based on the mission and method of Jesus.
2) The elders were the pastors in the early church.
3) The elders managed the tasks they were responsible for through delegation.
4)The elders delegated ministry to all disciples, also known as servants (diakonos, deacons).
5) The elders both provided and delegated the task of pastoral care.
6) All of the elders (leaders) and deacons (workers) were ordained (commissioned) with prayer and the laying on of hands.
The word ‘ordination’ is a big word for many churches. It carries a sense of ‘something special’ or ‘something other’ for the person that is ordained. Although my tradition does not see ordination as a sacrament, it sometimes feels like some people do see it as special power conferred only to a select group of special people in the church.
In the OT prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Exodus 40:15) and kings (1 Kings 1:34) were anointed, sometimes with consecrated oil (Exodus 30:22-33). This would have been their ‘ordination’, ‘official appointment’ or ‘commissioning’. They were marked as ‘the Lord’s anointed’, the ones chosen by God to serve His purpose in their assigned task. The messiah (anointed in Hebrew = mashiach, in Greek = christos) was the Lord’s anointed, chosen to fulfill His ultimate redemption purpose.
Jesus is not anointed by the Jewish leaders, but He is anointed with the Spirit of God when He is baptized. We might say this is His ‘ordination’ or ‘commissioning’ for His mission and purpose. According to Mark, this is how His formal ministry began (Mark 1:1-13).
We do not find Jesus anointing His disciples in a formal, OT way. But He does breathe on them with the Spirit (John 20:21-23), commission them for their task (Matthew 28:18-20), and anoint them with the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 1:8, 2:1-4). From this point on, it seems that the anointing with the Spirit, marked by baptism, was God’s commissioning for all disciples. As we have seen earlier, ALL disciples were commissioned into service (diakonia), ALL disciples are anointed and empowered to represent God in His mission. The word ‘christian’ is rooted in the title ‘Christ’, the anointed ones. New believers received this ‘anointing’ with prayer and the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:1-7).
In addition, some disciples were set apart for specific tasks in the church. The ‘servants’ assigned to look after the widows were prayed over and hands were laid on them (Acts 6:1-7). Elders were commissioned in every church with prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). Paul and Barnabas were commissioned with fasting, prayer and the laying on of hands (Acts 13:1-3). Those assigned to tasks in the church would not be new converts, and were to be tested (1 Timothy 3:6,10). Timothy was urged not be be hasty in appointing ‘servants’ with laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22).
It is my thought that church leaders (elders) and workers (deacons) assigned to specific tasks (preaching, teaching, leading or managing in any area of the church’s ministry) ought to be ordained/commissioned with prayer (including the intense prayer of fasting) and laying on of hands to remind them and the church of the importance of their work. In this sense, I believe all church leaders and workers ought to be ordained/commissioned. It was very important to me that at my ‘installation service’ the congregation was commissioned along with me. I am not the ‘ordained’ one, we all are!
God has conferred the Spirit of Jesus on all of us as Christians (anointed ones). We are all ordained to general ministry, and each one ordained to more specific ministries. The importance of this ordination is that it reminds us that we cannot fulfill our work without God, Jesus and the Spirit. We are not only saved through the Father, Son and Spirit, we can only serve through the Father, Son and Spirit too.
The hierarchical sense of clergy, where ordained ‘ministers’ are set apart from the common people, is not something Jesus established. He fulfilled the old covenant roles of prophet, priest and king, and offered them graciously to ALL of His followers. I am no more ordained than the worship leader or the Sunday school teacher or elder or treasurer. I am not diminishing my ordination, but elevating theirs to the same level as mine. I am ordained, and so are you, and so are all church leaders/workers. And so are all disciples.