Over the last few months, I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the historical questions that those being ordained have been asked since 1784 in the American Methodist church (see Wesley’s Historic Questions and The Historic Questions 2.0). Today, I spent some time reading through the liturgy for the ordination of elders as printed in The United Methodist Book of Worship, which we will experience one week from Saturday.
Following the laying on of hands by the Bishop and other elders, and after the ordinand is handed a Bible, the Bishop places a stole around the neck of the newly ordained elder and says …
… take authority as an elder in the Church to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Take authority as an elder in the Church.”
Authority is something leaders today tend to shy away from. Perhaps it’s because some leaders in the past were more authoritarian than authoritative. Authoritarian leaders demand (or at least, expect) authority while authoritative leaders view authority as a gift to steward.
While authority may be downplayed in today’s culture, it is important in the church. Jesus was recognized as one having authority. The Gospel of Matthew notes …
When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts. (Matthew 7.28-29, CEB).
There was something about Jesus’ teaching. There was something about Jesus. I think it was his intimacy with God the Father—his firsthand knowledge of God—that produced his sense of authority. It was also his attitude. Jesus was among us as one who came to serve, not to be served (see Mark 10.45). The call is a gift and a responsibility, not a perk.
No doubt, taking authority as an elder in the church requires courage and assertiveness. But more than that, it’s a call to intimacy with God, who grants the gift of authority for leadership in the Church.