The Meaning of Ordination and Licensure


The New Testament provides principles of church leadership and ministry structures, but does not mandate a complete or specific structure. The church needs to determine her leadership structures to meet current need within New Testament principles. These structures may be culturally influenced.

The church calls individuals to particular tasks. Some are called to serve in responsibilities of designated leadership (elders, deacons in the N.T.) and are commissioned by laying on hands. In ordination, the work of the Holy Spirit and the church is recognized in setting apart and assigning qualified men for a certain kind of ministry and the impartation of God’s grace for that ministry. Ordination calls for an orientation, preparation, and life style adjusted to particular roles of leadership and ministry as servants of the church. Length of term of ordination (consecration; setting apart) is indefinite, often for life, but subject to continued personal qualification and active ministry of the kind represented by ordination. Ordination represents service, not primarily a profession or occupation.

Christian ministries are not restricted to the ordained and licensed members of the church. All believers engage in ministries according to their gifts and opportunities. But all members are not commissioned to the particular ministries represented by ordination.

Ordination to the office of minister is for the ministry of the Word. This ministry includes the work of preaching, teaching, evangelizing, counseling, and administering the ordinances. It is exercised in various assignments recognized by the church, such as pastor, associate pastor, evangelist, missionary, itinerant preacher, and chaplain.

Ordination to the office of deacon is for the ministry of “tables” (Acts 6:2). This ministry includes leadership in the church’s provisions for the poor and reconciliation of estranged members.

Ordination to the office of bishop is a commission to additional responsibility in regard to officiating the ordinances and leadership in the governance and general administration in the congregation. This scope of responsibility can be assigned also to senior pastors and/or overseers who have not been ordained to the office of bishop.

Licensure is for a definite term to meet a temporary need or for the purpose of testing in the process of discernment. A license designates the office of minister or deacon with the same commission as the same office by ordination, but with definite and limited term and without ministerial membership in CMC. License to the office of bishop is not recognized, in view of the possibility of an overseer serving in that capacity in a particular place and time. Issuing a license does not necessarily involve laying on hands.

Qualifications for ordination or licensure include character, belief, lifestyle, gender, gifts, and sense of call. Further statements on ministerial offices, assignments, and functions, are found in the Constitution of Conservative Mennonite Conference.