Ordination (Mennonite Brethren Church, 1997)

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Ordination (MB, 1997)


Affirmation, in various forms of ministerial leadership in the Mennonite Brethren Church, has been a subject for study at various intervals and in different localities of the conference through the years. In April, 1994, more than 100 leaders of Mennonite Brethren churches in Canada and the United States met in Denver, Colorado, to discuss, among other things, the concept of "ordination" as presently practiced in the bi-national Conference (Canadian and United States) Mennonite Brethren Churches. The following reasons gave rise to this discussion:

  1. While it is apparent that some form of affirmation for service was practiced in the New Testament, it is not clear in everyone's mind that ordination is prescribed in the Bible.
  2. Our churches demonstrate a variety of practices with respect to ordination/affirmation and licenser.
  3. There is concern on the part of some that power/privilege are in danger of being abused by ordained ministers and that the practice results in a widening distinction between laity and clergy.
  4. There is some confusion, especially across national boundaries, about the expectations of governmental and/or other agencies with respect to the legal necessity for ordination.
  5. There is disagreement about whether or not ordination presumes a lifetime commitment/practice.

Points of Agreement

The Board of Faith and Life has given further study to the question of ordination as presented at our Fresno '95 Convention. During this conference interim, additional reflection and refinement has been given to the "Statement on ordination"' which was accepted as part of the BFL Report in 1995. At this time we sense we have broad constituency agreement on the following:

  1. That a common Mennonite Brethren Church procedure for leadership affirmation would be the ideal.
  2. That we do not have a uniform practice with respect to affirming leaders, and that we assign various meanings to the different forms we practice. We presently designate three forms of affirmation.
    1. Ordaining: ordination by the laying on of hands is the act, by the local church and the conference, of affirming those called by God and the church for the ministry of the gospel.
    2. Commissioning: Commissioning by the laying on of hands is the act, by the local church, in which a person is chosen and affirmed by the congregation for a specific service for a period of time.
    3. Licensing is the act, initiated by the local church, and processed with the conference, authorizing a leader within the congregation to perform functions in that position and location for which government [and/or agency/institution] approval is required and/or church action is requested.
  3. That all believers are gifted for service but that the act of affirming pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and leaders serving in church related and sponsored agencies and institutions etc. should be distinguished from affirmation given to all believers and their giftedness.
  4. That affirmation is an act of churchly identification that indicates the congregation's discernment of the giftedness and the blessing of God upon the affirmed. The act of affirmation emphasizes that power and authority inherent in ministry and delegated by the church should be exercised in a spirit of servanthood.
  5. That while the Bible does not give detailed instruction regarding the process of leadership affirmation, the church is free to establish helpful practices that are not specifically biblically prescribed.
  6. That some practical matters, including legal and organizational approval, make some form of affirmation essential.
  7. That we need to speak to the issue of "exiting," suspending and/or "withdrawing" of credentials.
  8. That guidelines for affirmation must be flexible enough so that the varying demands of government can be met. For instance, in the United States a person once ordained is considered a minister for life. In Canada there is an annual reporting of ministers and only those "active" are considered as ministers by government agencies.

Operating Principles

  1. That we retain ordination (laying on of hands) as the preferred practice of affirmation for those called to leadership in the denomination. This would include ministry personnel such as pastors, missionaries and others who are employed by the church and its ministry agencies and in accord with current Mennonite Brethren polity standards.
  2. That when a pastor or leader in ministry declines ordination, or the leader and congregation or conference consider ordination to be inappropriate, the congregation conduct a commissioning service that allows the person "license" in the eyes of the law and other agencies to practice ministry. The conference and congregation shall provide appropriate documentation of certification. This commissioning should apply only to that particular task and not to future assignments for pastors, missionaries, educators, administrators, and chaplains who are employed in conference ministry agencies and institutions and have accountability to the church/conference.
  3. That in services of affirmation, especially ordination, there be instruction both for the leader and congregation, indicating that such affirmation is not designed to confer status but affirmation for sacrificial service and ministry. This instruction should include warnings about the unbiblical tendency to allow ordination to foster a separation of clergy and laity.
  4. That standards of ministerial credentials be practiced by each congregation and their respective conference in a spirit of mutual accountability that includes:
    1. Persons who withdraw from the denomination should surrender their credentials,
    2. Persons should use their Mennonite Brethren credentials while serving in our denomination and/or as authorized by the denomination,
    3. Persons should refrain from using another denomination's or organization's credentials while serving in a Mennonite Brethren Church role,
    4. Persons who discontinue serving in a recognized position and enter another occupation should not use their ordination or affirmation for personal or financial reasons,
    5. Persons with credentials who are found guilty of sexual sin, financial fraud or other forms of the abuse of power and authority should voluntarily surrender their credentials or by appropriate action have them rescinded by conference or/and congregational leadership,
    6. Persons in retirement may retain their credentials for pur poses of gaining legitimate government allowances,
    7. Persons who are involved in misuse of their credentials may be consulted with an appeal to their ethical conscience for surrender of their credentials and if necessary the rescinding of the credentials by appropriate procedures
  5. That in all ordination/affirmation services the larger conferences (provincial/district and/or national) be involved in the examination and public affirmation service as a sign that congregations are part of a wider constituency. Suggestions for service components are found in the Church Leadership Manual.
  6. That congregations be encouraged to formulate ceremonies (liturgies, rituals, etc.) to affirm other workers in the church who do not fall into those categories where we ordain, commission and license.
  7. That the Board of Faith and Life with the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies arrange for a system whereby records of ordination/affirmation are compiled and updated and periodic reviews are solicited.
  8. That periodic reviews for ministry effectiveness be solicited and implemented by the respective district and provincial conferences together with congregations, with the counsel of conference leadership.
  9. That the Canadian and U.S. Conference Offices serve their constituencies with a Data Base of current prospective candidates for pastoral ministries.


Yearbook 61st Convention of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. The Conference, 1997: 27-30, 89-90.

Brandt, Gilbert G., ed., Church leadership manual : helps for the Mennonite Brethren Church and pastor. Winnipeg, Man. ; Hillsboro, Kan. : Kindred Press, c1985.