It’s Just a Piece of Paper, Right?

It’s just a piece of paper, right? We don’t need to get married to prove our love for each other!” I hear this from time to time from people who are hesitant to get married. Caution is understandable given the number of bitterly painful divorces. There’s real destruction left in the wake of a broken marriage. I once spoke with a prospective groom who had never seen a marriage that had lasted. I honestly was curious why he wanted to get married. He said he found the right girl. She was terrific, but I marveled at his courage. It takes real guts to attempt what you’ve seen others fail. Way to go. Marriage is hard, but it’s good. It’s worth the struggle.

Of course, the marriage license (the paper) doesn’t adequately communicate the depth of a real relationship. Anyone with $110 can get married in our county. (I guess that’s not nothing! But still.) The love of your life better be worth more than 110 bucks! But more often than not, the “It’s just a piece of paper, right?” attitude is a cowardly or lazy deflection of responsibility rather than wise caution. No honor there.

Certificate of Ordination

Next week I will sit before a Board of Ministerial Standing and sweat out a defense of my thesis paper to (hopefully!) receive my Certificate of Ordination. I jokingly refer to this board as the firing squad. Six years ago, I went through a similar but abbreviated process to receive my Ministry License in the EFCA. It took years before that of intense study to be able to biblically defend our statement of faith, which is a significant part of what a Ministry License represents in the EFCA (as well as confirming character, calling, gifting, etc.). Since licensing, for the past six years, I’ve continued to study theology, history, other religions, philosophy, leadership, and more. Preaching almost every week for the past 7 years has been a huge part of the process. I’ve enjoyed and benefited from expanding my understanding of who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing in the world. It’s helped me 1) to know God better and 2) to serve his church more effectively. God has pruned me immensely in the process and I’m so grateful.

However, over the years, it’s occurred to me several times that I could get a Certificate of Ordination online (from the “First Church of the Universe” or whatever) for only about $40. Who needs all this extra work? I’m already a pastor, right?? It’s just a piece of paper, right??? Hmm. No honor there, either.

Universal standards for theological credentialing don’t exist, so ordination means 100 different things depending on what church or denomination you look at—from basically nothing to the equivalent of a master’s degree. Some Christians care too much about credentials/titles while others ignore them completely. However, ordination is a big deal in the EFCA. This is one of the many strengths of the EFCA. The bar for theological proficiency should be high. The Apostle Paul counseled two younger pastors to, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” And to “…hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that [you] can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (1Ti 4:16; Titus 1:9) Presumably, this means putting in the work necessary to understand and communicate the good news of the gospel—and that doesn’t happen overnight. Of course, if I receive my Certificate of Ordination, I will not be finished learning about God. In many ways, I feel as if I’ve just begun.

So, like marriage, ordination isn’t just a piece of paper. It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s worth the struggle. If you believe God is calling you to vocational ministry, I would love to talk with you about the process. The world is in desperate need of more gospel ministry led by qualified pastors and ministry leaders. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Lk 10:2).

Would you pray for me? Pray that God would fill me with the Spirit of truth and empower me to share good news for years to come in a way that brings him all the glory, honor, and praise. Amen!