What isn’t there an app for, nowadays? Tony Jones — author, blogger, and “theologian-in-residence” at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis — has developed an iPhone app called "Ordain Thyself."
According to its website, the app will “show you what you would look like and believe if you were ordained” in more than two dozen religions from around the world.
It won’t actually ordain you as a religious leader, but I’ve got friends in southern California who got ordained online to officiate at the wedding of a friend or family member. So the app isn’t that far from reality.
Full disclosure: I was ordained by a mainline Christian denomination in 1983, after 4 years of college and 3 additional years of seminary. Not only that, but I grew up in the parsonages of churches my father served.
Dad celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination in August, an event I just barely remember (I was born while he and Mom were still at seminary). Our extended family will gather for a big party, as well as church on Sunday.
And I’ll have some sort of formal role in the Sunday worship service, honoring my dad’s years of service, so I’ve been thinking about what it takes to be the leader of a faith community – what it takes to be ordained.
Our denomination (United Church of Christ), like many Christian bodies, expects an “educated clergy.” Ministers are required to do graduate work in Biblical studies, church history, theology – and practical work, too, in church leadership, teaching and worship.
When I served on a regional committee that guided students seeking ordination, we began to discuss changes to the requirements for ordination. And one of the factors we wrestled with was different expectations and needs in individual congregations.
Many still wanted the traditional education, but some, particularly among immigrant and ethnic communities, were less concerned with academics and valued more a person’s demonstrated spiritual and moral life, his or her connection with an elder (and the elder’s recommendation) and a sense of deep relationship with the congregation itself.
I appreciate my education, but I also know the value of “learning the ropes” from someone experienced (I learned a lot from my dad) and being seen as genuine by your community. And those lessons don’t fit neatly into a graduate school curriculum or a limited amount of time for “practical ministry.”
Tony Jones says his app is just for fun, and my mind’s gone way in the other direction. My wife sometimes asks me, does everything have to be a lesson? Maybe not, but I take my ordination seriously; the religious garb I wear when leading worship says this is a role of significance.
And when leaders from other branches of Christianity baldly proclaim that God “hates” certain kinds of people or “doesn’t listen to the prayers” of others, I wonder if they’ve gotten their ordination from an app or a website rather than a disciplined education or genuine connection with a faith community.
Authentic spiritual leadership is about more than funny clothes or matching items on an “I believe” list. It’s about sharing a journey of discovery and transformation with a group of people as they try to live lives of compassion and reconciliation in a world that desperately needs those gifts.
Steve Swope is pastor at the United Church of Christ in Columbia. He writes for ColumbiaFAVS.