The path to ordination

By Gerald Penick, president, Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

“Pastor Penick, how can I become a pastor?” I have been asked this question many times by young people throughout my years in ministry. The path to ordination involves much that is spiritual and sacred, but there are also specific, well-defined steps that a person takes in order to become a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

First, you must experience a call from God. It is very rare for someone to receive a call like that of Paul on the road to Damascus: “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice” (Acts 9:3,4, NIV). Such a call would make things easier (or at least more instantly recognizable), but more often a call is a clear, persistent leading in your life, a conviction that full time ministry is the only thing God wants you to do. It may come as encouragement from a pastor or a teacher. It may grow out of devotional time with God or involvement with your church. But however it happens, you will know it. You cannot be a minister without God’s call.

But the call from God, though extremely important, does not prepare you to pastor and lead a church. Coupled with the call is the need to learn how to be a pastor. The denomination has voted a clear plan to be followed as a man or woman is guided toward ministry.

First, you must have a basic education from an accredited Adventist college or university. The two schools that qualify in the Pacific Union territory are La Sierra University and Pacific Union College. Conference presidents also hire graduates from accredited Adventist schools in the other unions. You need to get a bachelors’ degree in religion. The faculty in the religion department will carefully guide you through their program. You will learn the basics of Bible study and theology, be introduced to basic principles about being a pastor, and discover more about Adventist church history. In addition, you will have the opportunity to do ministry by helping in nearby churches.

During your senior year, conference leaders will come to your college and interview students who are recommended by the faculty. During the interview, the presidents look for several things, including:

  • Is there evidence of a clear call from God to serve in ministry?
  • Is there a clear commitment to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
  • Does the student show the ability to study and learn?
  • Is there evidence that the student is a hard worker?
  • Does the student like and relate well with people?
  • Is there evidence of a well-balanced life?
  • Does the student have the capacity and skills to do ministry?

If a conference feels there is a good match between their needs and your abilities, you will be asked to join their team and participate in the next steps towards ministry and ordination. These steps will include more education in graduate school or seminary and working in churches.

Pastors need to complete a Master of Divinity degree. This degree is available at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University and the H.M.S. Richards School of Divinity at La Sierra University. Both programs are fully accredited. Most students go to Andrews University because of financial help available from the North American Division. Both schools give in-depth training in biblical studies, theology, church history, missions, and practical theology. During the program, you will be required to work in local churches and participate in evangelism training.

Once you have received your degree, you will return to a conference for additional training and coaching as you serve in various churches. The conference leadership will observe your progress, suggest areas of additional training, and encourage you in your work. After about four years, the conference will consider if you are ready to be ordained.

The steps that are taken toward ordination come from denominational policy. It follows this sequence:

  • First, a committee of conference leaders and pastors will meet with you and talk to people you have worked with to see if you are truly called by God and if God is working in your ministry.
  • If this committee agrees that you are called by God, they will ask the conference executive committee to submit your name to the union for approval for ordination.
  • Just before the union executive committee meeting, all the conference presidents review the requests for ordinations. If they agree, the request is placed on the union executive committee’s agenda for a vote to allow the conference to ordain you.

After this last approval, your ordination can take place. It may happen in your church or in another place, such as at camp meeting. When your ordination takes place, it is not about you, or a celebration of your ministry. It is about God. You were called by God, and throughout your ministry, God has led in every step. God was with you in the education process and as you began to serve in churches. He was there with every visit and present at every baptism. So at ordinations, we honor God, who is present in the lives of our pastors, in our churches, and with our members. God is active in our ministry.

It’s a long process to become an ordained pastor. It is not random or haphazard. The church has a clear-cut path for ordaining ministers to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom.