Call Waiting: Connecting with God's Purpose for Your Life
How Do I Become a Minister of Word and Sacrament?
Once you are fairly certain that God is calling you to ministry, and you have decided to follow that call, there are a number of steps you must take to start the process.
Most people know that to become a minister you must go to seminary. Since seminary is a graduate school, prospective seminarians should have received a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, though some exceptions are made to this rule under special circumstances. It is not necessary that your bachelor's degree be in religion or a related field, though that may be helpful. Seminary generally takes three years for a full-time student to complete. After successful completion of the academic program, the student is awarded the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree.
In addition to seeking out and applying to a seminary, candidates should let their pastors and the consistories of their churches know of their plans as soon as possible. Your pastor can direct you to the appropriate person in the classis who is responsible for candidate care. It is the classis that will oversee your preparation for ministry and that will ultimately decide whether to ordain you or not.
You should also consult the Ministerial Formation Coordinating Agency (MFCA) website. The MFCA is the coordinating agency for theological education in the RCA. On their website you will find a wealth of information regarding preparation and process, including the necessary forms to begin the process of becoming an ordained pastor in the RCA. You may also contact the Coordinator of the Call Waiting program who can offer guidance on the initial steps of this process.
Reformed Church in America
After sharing your plans with your pastor, you may use Form I (MFCA website) to formally register your interest in ministry. Your pastor should then schedule a time for you to meet with your consistory. You may use the "Application to Consistory to Be Taken Under Care of Classis" (Form II) to facilitate this process and your interview. Your consistory, as the representative body of the home church that knows you best, will then make a recommendation (Forms III and IV) to the classis as to whether you should be taken under the care of classis. Again, it is the classis that will superintend your preparations for ministry. As such, it should be part of the process from the beginning. Most classes will have some kind of procedure for taking you under care. After receiving the recommendation from your consistory, most classes will ask you to meet with the committee of classis responsible for the care of students.
As soon as you are formally taken under the care of a classis, the classis will petition the General Synod for a Certificate of Fitness of Ministry on your behalf (Form V). This certificate will be granted by the General Synod through one of the RCA seminaries, or through MFCA if you are attending a non-RCA seminary. The petition must be received by the General Synod at least 24 months before the certificate can be granted, and you must receive this certificate to be ordained. This is one reason why it is important to be taken under care of your classis early in your program of study.
As you pursue your seminary degree, the classis will take an active interest in your progress. They will try to be in relationship with you and will check on your progress in various areas. Many classes do this by means of yearly exams, while others achieve the same ends through a series of retreats or other tools.
After successful completion of your seminary course of study, and upon the recommendation of the faculty of your seminary or the MFCA, you will be granted your Certificate of Fitness for Ministry. This certificate then entitles you to be examined by your classis for licensure and ordination. If you pass these exams to the satisfaction of your classis, you will become a licensed candidate, and you may accept a call from a church to become its pastor.
A call from a church is the final clarification of your call. Once you have accepted a call, you will be ordained by your classis to the ministry of Word and sacrament, and your ordained ministry will begin.
Another Route to Ordination
Just as God calls people to ministry in a wide variety of ways and gives them a diversity of gifts, so one process is not sufficient to include all those God may call to minister in God's name. Because of this reality the Reformed Church in America has provided an alternative to seminary training for some candidates. This alternative route is known as the Approved Alternate Route (AAR).
If you are unable to pursue a master of divinity degree because of age, lack of necessary academic preparation, language differences, or other sufficient reasons, you may be eligible for an alternate route to ordination. This process must be initiated by your classis. To find out what this process involves, visit the Approved Alternate Route (AAR).
The Book of Church Order
The formal process for becoming a minister of Word and sacrament in the RCA is laid out in the Book of Church Order. See Part II (The Classis), Articles 8 (Supervision of Students of Theology), 9 (Certificates of Fitness for Ministry), and 10 (Supervision of Licensure and Ordination).