Written by: David Buschart
The leadership of a Baptist church usually consists of one or more ordained, professional ministers or "pastors," as well as a board consisting of elected members of the congregation and some of the pastoral staff.This leadership is exercised in the context of a "congregational" form of church government, about which some observations should be noted at the outset.
As the label suggests, a "congregational" form of church government is one in which the members of the church (the congregation) actively participate in the oversight and life of the church.Members are to participate in all major decisions bearing on the life and work of the church, with many major decisions being determined by means of congregational.Local church constitutions stipulate the terms of this process, regarding such matters as identifying the types of decisions that require a congregational vote, defining the quorum needed to take a vote, and stipulating the percentage of votes needed to determine various types of decisions.This form of church government is grounded in a high view of the priesthood of all believers and, at least in the Baptist tradition, a belief in individual soul competency.
This empowerment of the congregation is, nonetheless, combined with leadership exercised by ordained clergy.As with other aspects of the tradition, the process of ordination is centered on a specific local church, and a Baptist minister is ordained by one, and only one, congregation.Because of the autonomy of individual Baptist churches, there is no single regulated process by which all Baptist ministers pursue and obtain ordination.However, there are some widely common characteristics and steps in the process.
Candidates for ordination emerge from within the context of a local church.Ordinarily, this occurs as an individual begins to realize an inner sense of "call" from God and as leaders and other members of the individual's local congregation similarly consider the possibility that this person may be "called by God" for vocational Christian ministry.If, after deliberation and prayer, there continues to be a mutual sense of call, the leadership of the church brings the individual before the entire congregation for their consideration.If the congregation affirms by vote the call, the candidate formally enters into the ordination candidacy process.
This is one of the points at which variations within the congregational form of government in the Baptist tradition become manifest.In Baptist churches which are fully independent (that is, churches which do not belong to any type of association or convention), the candidate formally enters the ordination candidacy process, usually by preparing a document that includes a description of sense of call, theological beliefs, and philosophy of ministry.Some Baptist churches voluntarily collaborate with other local or regional Baptist churches to form a committee on ordination that advises the churches represented on the committee.Finally, churches that are part of a larger association or convention of Baptist churches, inform the association or convention of the person's candidacy, followed by varying degrees of guidance and participation in the ordination process.