Over the years I have had the privilege of ordaining a good number of men and women into Christian ministry. However, it is important to note that in a Baptist context, ordination is never the task of one person. Rather, when we come to lay hands upon the ordinand, the presiding minister involves others in the praying.
These others include representatives of the sending and calling churches, who almost always are lay leaders within those churches and thereby demonstrate that ordination is the prerogative of the church as a whole – it is not a priestly act involving just the ordained. Customs vary as to how many are involved in the laying on of hands – at the end of the day it is more a question of practical logistics rather than theological niceties; likewise customs vary as to how many actually pray – but for theological reasons it is never just the presiding minister who prays. There is therefore no one ordination prayer.
When I am involved in praying in an ordination service, I normally centre my thoughts around the words of Paul found in 2 Tim 1.6:
Keep alive the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands upon you. For the Spirit God has given does not make us timid; instead his Spirit fills us with power, love and self-control.
Although when I have preached on this text I have normally applied the idea of ‘fanning the flame of the Spirit’ to believers in general, the reality is that these verses apply to the occasion when Timothy was set aside for ministry as a preacher-teacher (see 1 Tim 4.14). These verses are not a reference to the laying on of hands at baptism, but rather to ‘ordination’.
So when I pray I always begin by quoting Paul: “The Spirit God has given does not make us timid; instead his Spirit fills us with power, love and self control”. And then I normally pray:-
Our Father God, may this be your servant’s experience. Guide him/her and direct him/her as he/she seeks to lead your people. Make him/her a wise and able teacher. Fill him/her with your love that he/she may tend the flock eagerly and willingly. Enable him/her to do the work of an evangelist, so that by all means he/she may save some. Keep him/her faithful in all times of testing, humble in times of success, and joy at all times in your service.
However, the other Saturday when we ordained one of our members I prayed as follows:
Our Father God, as we lay hands upon Emma, our prayer is that you will fill her afresh with your Spirit – fill her with power, not least when she preaches your word; fill her with love, not least when she has to deal with difficult situations; and at all times may her life be controlled and directed by your Spirit.
Recently I have also had the joy of welcoming six new leaders (in Baptist parlance, ‘deacons’) whom we formally welcomed into office at the Lord’s Table one Sunday morning, and then recognised afresh at an evening communion service at which most people had not been present at the morning service. My commissioning prayers for them were brief and to the point:-
May God give you all the wisdom and imagination, energy, and drive, that you will need to make things happen in this church.
Lord, may our new deacons be men and women of prayer and of peace, of faith and of vision, of wisdom and of boldness, of strength and gentleness. Make them transparent with your love, and always open to your grace.
After I have welcomed new deacons I remind my people that all of us are called to serve, and then we say together the prayer of St Ignatius Loyola:-
Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward – except our knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So, what am I trying to say through this blog? That pastors need to be creative liturgists – yes, there is a place for using some of the great prayers of the church, but sometimes we need to develop prayers of our own which may be more appropriate to the situation.