Not Everyone is a Professional
My wife takes x-rays. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists have certified and registered her every year since 1980. ARRT says
Certification and registration is the recognition of an individual who satisfies certain standards within a profession. Employers, state licensing agencies, and federal regulators look at the ARRT credential as an indication that a person has met a recognized national standard for medical imaging, interventional procedures, and radiation therapy professionals.
Her credentials do not guarantee that she is a “good” x-ray tech because that is measured by her behavior. We can ask her patients and co-workers if she is good. However, her credentials are necessary for her to be considered a professional in her field. Her good behavior does not negate her need to be credentialed.
I am an ordained minister with the General Council of the Assemblies of God. My credentials do not guarantee that I am a “good” pastor because that is measured by my behavior, by how I practice within my ministry. On the other hand, if I am a good pastor, it does not negate the necessity for me to carry credentials.
Everyone is a Minister
I have been told that papers and titles are meaningless in ministry. Perhaps this negative opinion is based on some positive principles found in the New Testament.
It is also helpful to know that the New Testament noun for minister is the same word for servant and the verb for minister is the same word as serve.
The Church is a priesthood of believers. It says, “…you also, as living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house as a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
Every Believer is a minister. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given the responsibility of ministry. “All this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
The simple act of a financial offering is called ministry. “Meanwhile, through the performance of this ministry, they glorify God for the profession of your faith in the gospel of Christ and for your liberal sharing with them and with all others.” (Second Corinthians 9:13)
No license is needed to serve (minister) as a believer. Credentials for ministry are meaningless in this context. God calls every believer. Every believer must respond to God without hesitation.
Examination, Accountability, Authorization
The early church examined those who desired a role in leadership. The church leaders expected accountability from leaders in both personal life and their ministry as leaders. The early church authorized some believers to represent the Church.
In Acts 9:26-31, the disciples were reluctant to accept the leadership of Paul until Barnabas provided a reference and presented Paul to be examined by them. In Acts 11, Peter reported to the leaders in Jerusalem to give an account of the salvation of Gentiles. In the same chapter, relief funds are distributed very carefully; Barnabas and Saul are authorized to deliver them to qualified leaders called elders. In Acts 13:3, a Spirit-led selection accompanied by prayer and fasting precedes the laying on of hands upon Barnabas and Saul. In Acts 15:4, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem serve as an authorized body to receive and examine Paul and Barnabas. We would have a very different history of the early church if Paul had told the church leaders that he did not need their approval, had refused their examinations, and had denied their authority over his ministry.
Paul authorized young Timothy to serve in a larger role than the ministry common to all believers. Paul authorized Timothy to be a spokesman and a representative. When young Timothy’s credentials were doubted, Paul wrote that the gift of God was in Timothy through the laying on of Paul’s own hands. This reflects back to when the elders laid hands on Paul. Paul gives Timothy a lot of instructions about choosing and authorizing church leaders. The process of cautious examination of leadership seems to be a theme in the letter of First Timothy. Paul warned Timothy not to be too quick to lay hands on anyone who desires to lead. He expected Timothy to examine candidates for leadership before granting authority to them.
A credential for ministry is meaningless for those that want to follow Jesus. A credential for ministry is meaningful for those who want to lead others in Christian ministry.
Here are some legal issues to consider: housing allowance1 and consecration of marriage.2
1. A church should be prudent about providing a housing allowance to employees that are not duly ordained, licensed, or commissioned ministers, even if that church calls that person “pastor”. The IRS is not likely to consider non-credentialed staff as eligible for a housing allowance (income that is excluded from taxable income). If the church is knowingly providing tax reductions to employees/contractors that are ineligible, this may be an issue that the IRS would consider worth investigating. Proper credentials would clarify much.↩
2. In Indiana, IC 31-11-6-1, indicates who is authorized to solemnize marriages. The legal code states that, in my case, I must be a member of the clergy of a religious organization. It does not say that I can merely be a verbally-designated pastor with authorized based upon my recognition by my local Christian fellowship. For example, when I was the pastor of an independent church located in Valparaiso, Indiana, the church was legally recognized as a church in the State of Indiana with a Constitution and By-Laws that made a provision for the church to choose and ordain their own ministers. Therefore, the church board and body ordained me for ministry within their body. In my current situation, in order to legally officiate at weddings, I would be required to be credentialed through the General Council of the Assemblies of God by the Indiana District Assemblies of God, the religious organization to which my local church belongs. If I were not credentialed appropriately, I would not solemnize marriages.↩