Over the course of 2022, I have been honored and privileged to preach at a few ordination/installation services for some very good men in some very good churches. Here's a recap.
In April, I preached at the installation service for Matt Carpenter at Trinity Reformed in Huntsville. Trinity Reformed is a church we planted just as COVID was hitting. The church has grown in an amazing way in a very short time, showing how badly this plant was needed and how wisely its leadership has has ruled. Matt has been a good friend for many years and is a man whom I hold in the highest regard. He is solid pastor, an expert in American history, and a very competent preacher. For his installation, I preached on 1 Peter 5, focusing on what it means to be a pastor. It is very noteworthy that in the NT, we do not have a comprehensive description of the pastor's typical job description, but we do have a comprehensive description of the pastor's required character. The character of the man is more important than any on-paper job description. You see this in the qualifications for pastoral office given in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. In 1 Peter 5, Peter focuses as much on the way in which the shepherd shepherds as he does on what the task of shepherding involves, and this is because the character of the shepherd is seen in how he carries out his shepherding work. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and the undershepherds who care for the church are to reflect his love and wisdom in how they do their work. Shepherds have to not only feed the flock, but also run off wolves, and I urged Matt to be prepared to do both. Pastors lead and feed, guide and guard. The installation sermon can be found here.
At the end of October, we celebrated Reformation Day here at TPC with the ordination and installation of our new assistant pastor, Kameron Edenfield. Kameron has already been doing excellent work for us at TPC, serving as a part time intern over the last year. He is very clearly called to pastoral office and is eminently qualified. It was a great joy to be a part of his ordination ceremony. We look forward to having Kameron's service among us go to the next level in January when he becomes a full-time staff member. For Kameron's ordination sermon, I focused on two themes from 1 and 2 Timothy. First, I looked at the goodness of ambition to lead/serve in the church. We often look down on ambition because we assume a man with ambitions must be selfish and arrogant. But Paul says if a man is ambitious to do the work of an overseer in the church, he has a holy ambition. Kameron displays that holy ambition, and is making significant sacrifices to use his gifts in the church rather than the business world. Second, I focused on Paul's charge to Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season. The pastor invites controversy and conflict because he preaches a Word that often offends, rebukes, convicts, and corrects. Pastors are soldiers on the front lines, so it is no surprise they often get shot at. The pulpit is not a "safe space"; rather, it's like the cockpit of a fighter jet or the gun turret of a warship. The pastor uses the Word like an axe to attack the idols set up at the culture's high places. Preaching is warfare. It is a dangerous work and a heavy burden to bring the Word of God to the people of God faithfully week after week. But Paul gave Timothy great encouragement in this arduous task, and I sought to pass that same encouragement along to Kam. The ordination sermon from 1 Timothy 3 and 2 Timothy 4 can be found here.
In mid-November, I made the trek out to Greenville, SC to our church plant, Christ the King. I had been burning the candle at both ends, and was pretty exhausted by the time I got up to preach on Sunday morning so I won't say the sermon was the best I have preached, but I hope it was an encouragement to Michael Hansen and the saints there. It is always a joy to be with fellow believers at Christ the King. This congregation has grown with some really remarkable families, who are full of wisdom, cheer, and love. They excel in extravagant hospitality, the mirth that can only be seen in people who know their sins have been forgiven, and joyful singing fit for the worship of the King of kings. With Michael now ordained and installed as their pastor, I'm sure they will accomplish even more. For Michael's ordination and installation service, I preached on "the pastor as craftsman" from 2 Timothy 2:14-17. In this passage, Paul warns against needless, useless, unprofitable fights; rather, the pastor should lead his people into the right kinds of warfare. The useless "word battles" Paul warns against are contrasted with the powerful, militant speech of faithful preaching. 2 Timothy 2:15 is one of my favorite verses, and in the sermon I spent considerable time unpacking what it means for the pastor to "rightly divide the Word of truth." The point is not that the Bible itself needs to be cut up. The point is that Bible cuts us up. The Scripture is a tool or weapon in the hands of a diligent, well-studied pastor, and when wielded in wisdom, the preacher can use the Word to transform his people into a living sacrifice, offering up their life together on the altar of God. The pastor must never treat the Bible as putty to be shaped however he wants. He must never pull punches when it comes to teaching and especially applying the text. I urged Michael to use the equipment God has provided to him -- namely the Word of God -- so that he can cut and chisel his congregation into the image of Christ. The installation and ordination sermon can be found here.
One common theme in all three of these sermons is the centrality of the Word of God. If you are a pastor, the Bible is your boss. Your job is to master the Bible and master your people with the Bible. Your job is to bring the Scripture and the congregation into the closest possible relationship. The Word is like tool box, or a weapon safe, that the pastor draws from, using the proper tool/weapon for the situation at hand within his congregation. Eugene Peterson describes the work of the pastor with the Word of God this way:
"Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don't simply learn or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son. Readers become what they read. If Holy Scripture is to be something other than mere gossip about God, it must be internalized."
While preaching does not exhaust the pastor's work, it is always the core of that work. Everything flows out of the Word of God. The Word does the work. The Word of God is powerful and gets the job done. Think of how Luther described the Reformaton (in jest) -- he and Melanchthon sat and drank beer while "the Word did the work." The pastor's power is not found in himself; it is found in the Word he proclaims.
Another theme is the necessity of leaders to set a godly and faithful example before their congregations. While he was not a believer, Edwin Friedman got something right: "Followers cannot rise above the maturity level of their mentors no matter what their mentor's skill and knowledge-base." The point is that while it is certainly important for the pastor to have a great breadth and depth of biblical knowledge, knowledge is not enough. It will be his example, not his knowledge, that sets the bar for the community. A man cannot lead a congregation if he cannot lead himself. And while the session as a whole plays a role in this, the spotlight will always be on the pastor. We all know the old saying, "They don't build statues to committees." As one person has put it, "'Follow we' never works. Ever. It’s 'follow me.' Any organization that has a point leader with accountability and freedom to use their gift will do well to line up behind him and let him lead." That's exactly right. Leaders lead. Leaders must live lives that are compelling, worthy of imitation, worthy of following. This is why Scripture puts so much emphasis on the life of the pastor (1 Tim. 4:16).
Yet another theme in these sermons is the necessity for the pastor to be completely sold out and uncompromising in his commitment to follow the Word, wherever it leads him. Perhaps this will look unreasonable to many -- but as George Bernard Shaw said, "All progress depends upon the unreasonable man." Or as another has put it, "All great men have at least a touch of madness." So long as it the unreasonableness and madness that comes from the gospel itself -- the message of the God-man crucified and raised, now reigning over all and forgiving sinners who call upon him -- it is exactly what we need. The man of God -- the pastor -- must not be overly self-conscious. He needs to get over himself and get on with the mission. When he gets knocked down, he needs to get back up and keep fighting the good fight. One of the most needful qualities in any pastor is the ability to fight off discouragement, to have grit and persistence in the face of difficulty.
Finally, you may be wondering why I have used the words "ordination" and "installation" to describe the ceremonies. There is a wide biblical basis from OT and NT for the practice of ordination. For example, the rite of old covenant priestly ordination is found in Leviticus 8. In the NT, we could point to 1 Timothy 4:14, which describes a presbytery (body of elders) laying hands on Timothy to impart a gift and inaugurate him into office. Ordination has to do with the man's office in the church catholic, installation has to do with the man's relationship to the particular congregation that has called him. Ordination gives the man new status, new office, new privileges, new responsibilities, and a new role. Installation gives the man a new relationship to the congregation. When a man is installed, the pastor and the people are bonded together in a relationship of mutual love, trust, and help, so that together, shepherd and flock, they may act as one in contending for the gospel, advancing the kingdom, and standing for biblical truth.