Ministry status within Churches of Christ: reflections

Stephen Curkpatrick

If within Churches of Christ all Christians are called to fulfill diverse ministry roles, why do we ordain some people? If ordination does not demarcate any qualitative difference in ministry roles that are open to all Christians, why do we use a rite that both historically and in contemporary use, does install a distinctive ministry status and demarcates particular sacramental roles?

If in common ecclesial practice and public awareness, ordination installs a qualitative difference in sacramental ministry (Eucharist and baptism), does ordination not then denote an intrinsic differentiation in ministry status? The practice of de-ordination demonstrates such a difference. Historically, ordination installs an effective sacramental status and authority (variations of ex opera operato), whatever the flux of faith and ethical character—unless a formal de-ordination process occurs. The prevailing conceptual frame around ordination is linked to a metaphysical labyrinth that is foreign to Churches of Christ theology and expressions of ministry.

If the language of ministry endorsement and commissioning indicate a process of setting apart specifically formed people for particular ministries as equals among others, why use the language of ordination, which carries pervasive historical and ambiguous contemporary baggage within community perceptions? With the generally low community opinion of ordained clergy, by contrast to “lay” people, does the language of ordination obscure the indigenous language and theology of ministry foci within Churches of Christ?

Ministry endorsement represents appropriate prefacing and discernment practices for competent, integral and recognized ministry within Churches of Christ. What significance is given to ordination then, which could not be invested in ministry commissioning (general) and induction (contextual) that is a celebration of ministry calling and commitment to a particular congregation and its expressions of mission?

While commissioning affirms a ministry call, requisite formation and recognition of gifts and skills within a wider community, induction affirms a specific invitation to minister within a particular church community, also having a call to and resources for specific mission. Every induction is a renewal of ministry call and affirmation of gifts in commitment to a particular congregation and its mission; within Christian identity every induction is therefore a celebration of Christian faith, church community and mission; it is an invitation to renewal and so a reaffirmation of initial commissioning.

The church is, only as it is in local expression and relay of Christian faith at any time and in any place of its story; ministry leadership and service is, only as it is expressed in relation to the church and its mission. An induction event may occur several times for any one person in commitment to ministry; each time it is existential, eventful, renewing and relational, affirming crucial Churches of Christ values concerning leadership, mutual ministry, context, mission and community.

Ministry endorsement, commissioning and induction encompass everything represented within Churches of Christ perspectives on ministry—without the ambiguities, historically and contemporary, associated with ordination.