Licenses and credentials are nothing new to us. If you drive a car, there is a process of written and practical evaluation to become a licensed driver, and systems of accountability for misusing the privilege of operating several tons of metal and plastic at high speed. Various professions require licensing, whether medicine, law, or real estate. And yet there is still some resistance to the idea of Credentialing for ministry roles, within which we take on the responsibilities for the souls of others before God (Heb. 13:17).
The EFCA offers Credentialing for a variety of ministry roles and circumstances, from Ministry Licenses and the Certificate of Christian Ministry for men and women in ministry, to the Certificate of Ordination for men whose primary role is preaching or teaching God’s Word.
Still, why get credentialed? You might already be on staff at a church, or serving in ministry. What value is there in jumping through another set of hoops to be evaluated? Why invest the time it takes to write the paper, sit before a council, face the potential of edits and rewrites? If God has called me, and a church has called me, why would I even ask anyone else?
The purpose of credentialing, as listed on the EFCA’s website:
- Affirm God’s call upon a person’s life
- Verify that this person meets the qualifications and standards for ministry in the Evangelical Free Church of America
- Approve this person for ministerial service under the auspices of the EFCA
- Provide legal status in the exercise of that person’s ministry
Of course the EFCA, in offering Credentialing, wants its pastors, ministers, and ministry leaders to take advantage of the opportunity to gain a formal credential. Ideally, at least every Lead/Senior Pastor of every EFCA church would be ordained. What is the biblical and practical value of Credentialing, though?
The New Testament shows a clear inter-connectivity between the churches, even as the gospel spread. Paul met with Peter, James, and John to establish unity in the gospel that was preached to the both Jews and Gentiles (Gal. 1:18-24; 2:. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 evaluated important doctrinal truths that led to practical implications for the churches, and pressed a unity in diversity. In the EFCA we can tend to overemphasize that our local churches are “Free”, but we have important points of unity together, centrally in our Statement of Faith. Credentialing helps to ensure that we maintain unity in the essentials, even while extending charity in the non-essentials of the faith.
Beyond the Apostles we see the importance of doctrinal training and evaluation, particularly for pastoral ministry. Paul urged Titus to appoint elders who “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit. 1:9) and told Timothy that “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
A Credentialing paper, council, and recommendations are designed to evaluate exactly these points. Too often they are seen either as hoops to jump through, or some kind of fearful test. I have served on a number of councils for various credentials and my experience has universally been that those on the council want to help the candidate to refine their own positions and theology so that they can serve the church even more effectively. There is no downside to inviting other faithful pastors and church members into our own theological development to ensure that we are rightly understanding Scripture and theology, but there is massive benefit to the refining that happens throughout the process.
Beyond pressing toward orthodoxy in theological and doctrinal clarity, the Credentialing process provides valuable accountability that extends to our life and conduct as well. After all, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience. Certain persons, by swerving from these , have wandered away into vain discussions” (1 Tim. 1:5-6). The character evaluation and demands of a ministry credential are every bit as important as the doctrinal evaluation. It is a good thing to have accountability beyond the local church so that disqualifying behavior will lead to broader discipline.
Both of these aspects are benefits to individuals who submit themselves to the Credentialing process. When I have hit hard patches in my own life and ministry, which are inevitable for us all, it has helped me keep standing to know that others have stood alongside me and confirmed God’s calling to ministry on my life, and my fittedness to serve the church. There is a benefit to our churches in that as well, because the credential is not limited to one local church, but involves others who are seasoned and tested in their own lives and ministries. A Credentialing paper provides a clear look at the theology of any ministry applicant that churches can access and find great confidence in as part of the EFCA.
In our church, GATEWAY, licensing, and ordination have been invaluable discipleship tools as we evaluate a person’s calling to ministry and train them up to effectively work in the church. At times it has exposed where people are not aligned with the EFCA or with our church theologically. Thank God for that clarity! On the other hand, it has provided a pathway for those who are aligned to gain greater competence and confidence in their calling, setting up effective ministry in church planting, pastoral ministry, and other ministry leadership.
There is simply too much benefit to the Credentialing process to ignore it or look past it. If you serve in an EFCA church in full-time ministry, you have much to gain through the process. You can come through it with greater confidence in your own theology and calling to ministry. If you’re in an EFCA church, encouraging your pastors and ministry leaders to pursue ordination provides valuable accountability and confidence in those you follow. We wouldn’t let an unlicensed driver take our car for a road trip. Let’s take the calling to Christian ministry with at least as much seriousness.