Commentary: Ordination councils are a key part of calling out the called


I was licensed to “the gospel ministry” by my home church in North Carolina 65 years ago – December 14, 1958. Two years later I was called to be the pastor of the Beulah Baptist Church in Sparta, Georgia; and the good people of Beulah requested my ordination, which also took place in my home church in North Carolina on January 29, 1961.

Few things are more sacred to a minister than his ordination. I remember the snowy Sunday in the foothills of Western North Carolina when the event took place. At my request, Norma Brinkley sang “I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked”. My pastor, Wilbur Huneycutt, preached the ordination sermon.

Pastor Huneycutt arranged for my ordination by forming a council to question me regarding my salvation experience, my call into the ministry and my understanding of Baptist doctrine. He was gracious enough to call local pastors that I had known in our community, some for whom I had preached, and included my uncle Parks Harris who served as pastor of a Baptist church in Lexington, North Carolina.

I had been warned by some of my ministerial friends at Mercer University that I could get complicated questions like, "Describe the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek in Genesis 14: 18-20,”  “What is the significance of the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24:15?” or “What is the meaning of the leopard-like beast in Revelation 13:2 with feet like a bear, a mouth like a lion, and power derived from a dragon?”  

I must admit that I was intimidated by the experience and fearful of not winning the approval of the men gathered to question me. However, I discovered that my ordination council was composed of men who were like Barnabas - men who had the gift of encouragement. If one of the men felt like I was struggling to find the answer to a question, he would give me a subtle hint to help me find the correct words for my response. All through the process I felt affirmed and encouraged.

Obviously, an ordination council has the solemn responsibility to make sure the candidate is doctrinally sound, understands the importance of having a personal walk with the Lord, has the heart of a shepherd, and understands the spiritual gifts that will confirm his calling and enhance his ministry. However, in the worst-case scenario, if the candidate seems unprepared or unfit for what he believes to be God’s calling, the council should suggest that the ordination be delayed until the aspiring minister has been nurtured, discipled, and developed with love and understanding.

This final question has probably been asked to many candidates for ordination: “If we were to choose not to recommend your ordination, what would you do with the rest of your life?”

I was ready for my response to that question and stated, “Gentleman, I started out preaching in nursing homes and prisons. That is a good place to start, because in one place they can’t hear you and in the other place they can’t leave. However, I know God has called me to preach and if that means preaching in prisons, nursing homes and street corners, that is what I will do. I don’t suppose I will need to be ordained for that.”

I remember the men verifying their approval with hearty “amens.” God used those godly men to not only recommend my ordination, but to pledge their prayer support and encouragement through the years, which I gladly received for a very long time.

The theme for this past Georgia Baptist Convention was “Calling Out the Called.” It was a well-chosen theme, because we need honest, faithful, dedicated young men who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and eager to hear and heed God’s call. Once they sense that God is warming their hearts toward a call into the Gospel ministry, we need to support them with our love, our prayers and affirmation.


J. Gerald Harris is a retired pastor and journalist who served as editor of The Christian Index for nearly two decades.