You’re wondering if one can be a pastor but not being officially ordained by any spiritual umbrella entity. You might want to become a pastor and shepherd a church without ordination. So, you ask is that possible, and is that even advisable?
As a whole, one can be a pastor of a church without being officially ordained by an organization or spiritual entity as long as the congregation consents to a non-ordained spiritual leadership. However, the Bible presents examples of formal ordinations by leadership to confirm an evident call of God.
Because this topic is borderline controversial we need to unpack it a little further below.
Can you be a pastor without being ordained?
Technically, you could become a church pastor without ordination as long as the church agrees on having a pastor who was not “blessed”, anointed, sent out, and/or being prayed for to take over this spiritual leadership position.
I believe though that the Bible gives us note-worthy examples of how to install spiritual leadership.
Before we go there, let’s clear up what “ordination” actually means. The definition of the English word as described in the Britannica encyclopedia means:
“Ordination, in Christian churches, a rite for the dedication and commissioning of ministers. The essential ceremony consists of the laying of hands of the ordaining minister upon the head of the one being ordained, with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and of grace required for the carrying out of the ministry. The service also usually includes a public examination of the candidate and a sermon or charge concerning the responsibilities of the ministry.”Britannica.com
The modern meaning of ordination refers to not just a mere officiating act to give someone a position in a social organization. It actually is a dedication, commission, and confirmation of one of the most important calls one could carry.
The word itself used in the Bible is more used in the context of electing, creating, appointing, setting over, and constituting. (Source, source)
In Acts 6:5-6 we see the apostles choose the deacons under the forgoing clear guidance of the Holy Spirit. They officiated them through prayer and the laying on of Hands. This was “ordination” worked as public confirmation of the Holy Spirit’s leadership.
Then in Acts 13:3 we can see the commissioning of Barnabas and Apostle Paul through fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands to send them out. This again worked only as a confirmation of the preceding Holy Spirit’s leadership. We see a similar pattern in Acts 14:23 where Paul and Barnabas choose and appoint elders for a church.
Now, the main thing in these Bible verses was not a ceremony of fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands, but first, the “ordination” or “appointment” happened by God.
When you research the OT you can see that God “appointed” or “ordained” leaders like Joseph, Moses, Gideon, etc. as leaders without anyone necessarily doing a ceremony on them. A ceremony is not mandatory but acts as a confirmation of God’s outwardly evident call on that person’s life.
In my personal opinion, I believe that it is extremely helpful to have this spiritual confirmation. It will help you and the people around you remember, in troubled times, that there is an evidently confirmed call for a pastoral ministry.
One can have the blessing released through leadership but don’t need an official “covering”, because the officiating factor is God’s evident call and confirmation through the Holy Spirit.
What qualifies you as a pastor?
The qualifications of a pastor as shown in the New Testament are: appointed by God, blameless, married to one wife, mild-tempered, pragmatic, hospitable, a teacher, non-alcoholic, nonviolent, not greedy or covetous, not argumentative, good husband and father, not a baby-Christian, having a good reputation with people.
All these qualifications you can find in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9.
“blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not [given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”1 Timothy 3:2-7 NKJV
“if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”Titus 1:6-9 NKJV
The only thing I would add to this list is having a real shepherd’s heart who truly loves and cares for the well-being of his congregation.
As a whole Paul is suggesting that only men with true leadership potential should be appointed as elders/pastors. And yes, I am not making a distinction here right now between “pastor”, “elder”, or church leader in general. That is an article for another time.
In essence, it’s about a spiritual leadership role of a church able to lead the people in a godly way that would bring them closer to God and not further away.
Sadly, sometimes the latter is the case. People get hurt by authoritative leaders that bulldoze over their sheep’s feelings or don’t care enough to actually help them by praying for healing and deliverance concerning their issues.
I know life as a leader can be tuff on a pastor too. That’s why it’s important that he doesn’t stand alone but has a leadership team (church board) standing behind him in support and prayer. That also adds the needed accountability.
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