To the Parties Involved--An Overview
To the Applicant
God calls men and women to the ministry of Word and sacrament. This call is often experienced first as the affirmation of a person’s gifts for ministry by the church. An inward sense of God’s call usually accompanies such an affirmation. These two aspects of a call emerge in a conversational way, as the outer call confirms and deepens the inner call. If you are reading this manual because you have felt God calling you to the ministry of Word and sacrament, you are already aware of the deeply personal and inward character of such a call. Some people describe it as a yearning or longing that they can’t quite put into words. Others point to a specific experience that led them to believe that God wanted them to serve in this way. For still others, someone else first suggested the idea of becoming a minister of Word and sacrament, and only then did an inner sense of call begin to emerge.
However you have experienced God’s call, there needs to be some public confirmation that you have gifts for the ministry of Word and sacrament, or an affirmation that this possibility is worth exploring. When one’s sense of God’s call is not confirmed by the encouragement or support of others, it is a good idea to try to discern whether it was a call to the ministry of Word and sacrament or to some other form of Christian service that was being heard.
At some point in the process of prayer, reflection, and conversation, it is important that you seek the counsel of others, including your pastor and church leaders. They will be able to help you in the discernment process. If the outcome of your praying and talking together over time points you toward answering God’s call through seminary training, the church leaders will hopefully play an important role as mentor and advocate.
One of the first formal steps in the process leading toward ordination as a minister of Word and sacrament in the RCA is to receive the recommendation of the consistory of the church of which you are a member. When you and your advisors decide that it is time for this step, the consistory will interview you regarding your call. Form I may be useful to you as you think about your sense of call. It can also be used as a tool to provide members of your consistory with background information for their meeting with you. Complete the form and ask your pastor to sign it. (Form I, along with the other forms cited in this manual is available from the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency or by going to mfca.rca.org..) It should be noted that the 2016 General Synod has recommended a change to our order that would permit a classis to function in place of a consistory where local church membership is not feasible.
The members of the consistory or classis will want to know about your faith journey. They will seek the opinion of others about your promise and prospects for service as a minister of Word and sacrament. They will want to hear how you have already demonstrated the gifts and abilities required for that ministry, and they will be interested in your initial thoughts about your future direction in ministry. They will seek to discern God’s will as they consider their recommendation. Form II, Consistory Evaluation and Recommendation, will guide the members of the consistory and your pastor in the interview and will be forwarded to the appropriate committee of classis with their recommendation and your biographical information (Form I).
If these steps confirm your calling to the ministry of Word and sacrament, your next step will be meeting with the committee of classis charged with the care and supervision of candidates, whose members will want to confirm for themselves the information in the recommendation provided by the consistory.
When the classis committee is satisfied that your call is genuine, that you have promise and potential for the ministry of Word and sacrament, you will be taken under the care of the classis as a candidate (until now you have been only an applicant). Form V, Petition for a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry, must be completed by the classis and submitted to New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Western Theological Seminary, or to the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency, depending on where the candidate is attending seminary.
To the Applicant's Pastors and Supporting Individuals
A minister of Word and sacrament or leader yourself, you play a pivotal role in a person’s process of discerning whether or not she or he has a valid call to the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. A member of the congregation you serve may feel called to serve God as an ordained pastor. You may be among the first people she speaks to about these inner stirrings of God’s Spirit or the more external influences leading her to explore this possibility.
When you explore these feelings and experiences with a church member, you may experience a sense of congruence between his sense of call and your own perceptions about his gifts. In that case, you will want to encourage the potential applicant. This may involve providing opportunities for him to lead and serve the congregation in new and different capacities. Yours is the rich opportunity to mentor a person who is discovering a call to ministry.
At other times, the absence of needed gifts, experience, or Christian maturity may lead you to gently dissuade a potential applicant from proceeding with this process. Since this person is a member of the congregation, speaking the truth in love about a lack of gifts or potential for serving as an ordained pastor may be difficult. But if you advocate for a person whose gifts and personal qualities are marginal or inappropriate for the ministry of Word and sacrament, it will be very difficult for others—consistory and classis—to reject the application and to counsel the person to move in another direction.
You will want to read this manual carefully in order to provide helpful advice to anyone who may approach you with an interest in exploring the vocation of minister of Word and sacrament. Step 1 in this manual describes your role as the applicant's pastor.
To the Consistory
Your role in the process that leads to the ordination of a minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America is an important one. A member of the congregation you serve may feel an inward calling or may receive encouragement from others to think about serving God as an ordained pastor. Your pastor or other leaders may bring such a person to you to discuss these stirrings of God’s Spirit.
Some things to look for as you talk together include the person’s spiritual maturity, emotional stability, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, relational skills, intellectual capacities, and relationship to the church (for example, the length of time she has been actively engaged in the life of this congregation). You will also want to know whether she has the affirmation and support of others in pursuing this direction.
Some questions to ask include: Has the person exhibited desirable personal qualities and Christian behaviors consistently over a period of time within the life of this congregation? What evidence is there that he has the necessary spiritual gifts for the ministry of Word and sacrament? How do others perceive his leadership ability? Does he manifest any undesirable personality traits? How well does the person interact with others? Does the person have sufficient physical stamina and emotional health to meet the demands of the ministry of Word and sacrament? How solid is his grounding (i.e., knowledge and belief) in the Christian faith?
Step 2 of this manual describes the consistory's role in this process.
To the Classis Candidate Care Committee
The Reformed Church in America assigns to the classis a significant role in the preparation of men and women for ordination as ministers of Word and sacrament. The classis must determine whether or not a person who has been recommended by a consistory should come under the care and supervision of the classis. The classis must then petition New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS), Western Theological Seminary (WTS), or the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency (MFCA) for a Certificate of Fitness for Ministry. The classis must also exercise care and supervision of the candidate and examine him or her in the areas prescribed by the Book of Church Order. In the end, the classis will need to determine whether or not the candidate meets the criteria for ordination in the Reformed Church in America.
Step 3 in this process manual describes the role of the assigned classis committee in assessing an applicant’s qualifications for coming under the care and supervision of the classis as a candidate for ordination as a minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America.