CM Crisis 1: What is a Commissioned Minister?

Council of Adventist Pastors
May 23, 2016



Since the July 8, 2015 General Conference vote in which delegates gathered from around the world and rejected the proposal to let division executive committees determine for themselves whether or not to ordain women to the gospel ministry, some entities have shown open disregard toward the world church. For example, Washington, Oregon, and Upper Columbia Conference executive committees have voted unilaterally to expand the commissioned minister credential in those conferences granting to bearers authorities nearly identical to the ordained minister credential.
The Council of Adventist Pastors (CAP) has prepared a series of articles outlining how these voted actions place these conferences in conflict with their world church. We will show how actions taken by conference executive committees in some cases exactly contradict the Church Manual and the Working Policies of the Church. We will share responses by church members to the incorrect actions of conference executive committees. Most of the articles will focus on the Upper Columbia Conference as providing a concrete case, but much will be applicable in Oregon, Washington, and other conferences where similar policies and practices are surfacing.

We recognize that there is a general lack of understanding in the church concerning the roles of ordained and of commissioned ministers. We begin the series by answering, What is a commissioned minister?


Some conference leaders are telling members that there is little difference between ordained and commissioned minister credentials. Well may we ask, then what was decided at the General Conference session held in San Antonio, Texas in 2015? Why then the July 8 vote in which delegates explicitly denied to division executive committees the authority to ordain women to the gospel ministry? If conferences could just give to women a credential practically equivalent to the ordained credential, why the fuss?
Most church members may know that the ordained minister credential is a commission carrying certain authorities. These authorities include officiating at weddings (pronouncing vows and declaring the official marriage union), baptizing, ordaining elders, organizing churches, uniting churches, disbanding churches, officiating at communion, and other sundry duties. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ordination vests the one ordained with “full ecclesiastical authority” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 161). The ordained minister leads a congregation/congregations and his commission authorizes him to serve anywhere globally.
But let’s turn our attention to the commissioned credential. Is it almost identical to the ordained minister?


It is not. The following citations demonstrate that the credentials discussed are quite distinct from each other. Consider General Conference Working Policy citations E 05 05 and 10 in their entirety:

“E 05 Credentials and Licenses

“E 05 05 Types: Denominational employees shall be classified and accredited by the employing organization (see E 10) according to the categories listed below. No person shall be included in more than one category at the same time. Any division that wishes to issue credentials other than those categorized below, may do so with prior approval of the General Conference Executive Committee at Annual Council.

“E 05 10 Employees in Ministerial/Pastoral Roles: 1.a. Ministerial Credential—Issued to ministerial employees who have demonstrated a divine call to ministry and have been ordained to the gospel ministry.
     “b. Ministerial License—Issued to ministerial employees who have demonstrated a divine call to ministry which is recognized by a conference/mission/field with an assignment as a spiritual leader, pastor, chaplain, or evangelist.
     “2.a. Commissioned Minister Credential—Issued to the following unless they hold ministerial credentials and except as provided in E 05 15; associates in pastoral care; Bible instructors; General Conference, division, union, and local conference/mission treasurers/chief financial officers and departmental directors including associate and assistant directors; institutional chaplains; presidents and vice-presidents of major institutions; auditors (General Conference director, associates, area and district directors), and field directors of the Christian Record Services, Inc. These individuals should have significant experience in denominational service (usually five years or more) and demonstrate proficiency in the responsibilities assigned to them. It is recommended that an appropriate commissioning service be conducted when an employee is granted a Commissioned Minister Credential.
     “b. Commissioned Minister License—When applicable, issued to employees listed in paragraph 2.a. above with less than five years in denominational service.
    “3. Licensed ministers are on the path toward ordination to the gospel ministry (see L 25). It is not the normal practice to ordain an individual who has not been classified as a licensed minister. (See L 25 30 and L 35). Commissioned ministers holding licenses or credentials are not normally on the path toward ordination to the gospel ministry” (General Conference Working Policy, 2013-2014 edition, pp. 219, 220).

Conference, union, and division presidents are drawn from the ranks of ordained ministers, which is fitting. For example, in a local conference such a worker guides the pastoral staff and stands “at the head of the gospel ministry in the conference and is the chief elder, or overseer, of all the churches” (Church Manual, p. 31, 2015 ed.). These receive the Ministerial credential, and are identified as ordained ministers. Pastors who lead congregations also receive this credential.
But consider the kinds of workers for which the commissioned credential is used. “Associates in pastoral care” are by definition not head pastors but co-workers and helpers in multi-staff congregations. Bible instructors are exactly that—persons tasked with giving Bible studies and helping people prepare for baptism; they are not persons placed in chief leadership over a congregation. Neither do treasurers and departmental directors have an independent pastoral leadership role or lead a congregation, but these work on a departmental basis with committees. Chaplains are part of an institutional staff, another team effort, not serving in a role of primary
congregational leadership.
There are presidential and and vice-presidential roles which are institutional rather than leading a congregation or congregations. Auditors also have an important and specific work, but that is not a work of leading a congregation as its pastor. All of these roles as listed above differ decidedly from the role of a primary leader of a congregation—the role the church sees as proper for the ordained minister.
The General Conference Working Policy helps us understand:

  • The authorities granted in a specific commission are carefully delineated. Some authorities go with one kind of credential, other authorities with another.
  • Different combinations of authorities can be granted in a commission and the General Conference has the authority to remix said authorities and create new
    credentials. However, a division may not issue such a credential unless it has been previously approved by the General Conference.
  • The roles specified for the commissioned minister credential are clear and specific. This kind of credential is for associates in pastoral care, Bible instructors, auditors, and so on.
  • Licensed ministers are on the path to ordination; commissioned ministers are not. (Provision is made for unusual cases).


Some conferences now seeking to add female workers to their pastoral staff have begun to explain the commissioned minister credential as being practically equivalent to the ordained minister. Some, favoring women’s ordination, seem determined to recreate the commissioned minister credential. Their actions demonstrate an intent to reshape the credential until it is almost identical to the ordained minister. (Some presently overlapping responsibilities and privileges not discussed in this article will be pointed out in our second article.)
The callings of nurse and of medical doctor (MD) offer illustration. As relating to the Medical Doctor, the role and work of a nurse is complimentary, supportive. A person studying to be a nurse is not awarded the MD’s credential. The role of a nurse never eclipses or replaces that of the Medical Doctor. None are scandalized by these category distinctions.
First Corinthians 12:22-25 reminds us, “The parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor. . . . But God has so adjusted the body, giving the greater honor to the humbler part that there be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” Given the Bible’s definition of an “elder” being “the husband of one wife,” a woman can never become “the
husband” and the husband can never become the “wife.” Husband and wife roles are non-interchangeable. This will always be true. Likewise, a supporting ministry will always be distinct from a ministry of primary leadership. There are Moseses and there are Aarons, but things go badly for God’s people when these roles are swapped. Conferences are not granted authority to recreate credentials or make them interchangeable.


Each kind of credential is distinct. The reception of an ordained minister credential is a grant of worldwide authority. The granting of a commissioned minister credential extends the individual’s authority only in the local church or churches in which he/she has been voted by members in those churches to serve. While the world church grants conferences certain authorities within the geographical territory assigned them, this authority does not extend to redefining credentials. Even unions cannot redefine the criteria for ordination. The world church alone defines credentials and their criteria.
The two tracks (licensed minister culminating in ordained minister, and commissioned licensed minister culminating in commissioned minister) are different tracks of tithe-supported ministry and have different purposes. The first track is designed to develop workers who are ordained pastors leading congregations; the second track is a broader category including paid workers who carry out specific duties in support of various denominational institutions. In cases where a female serves as an associate in pastoral care, she can fill important needs in a congregation without serving as an elder or being a primary leader of a congregation. God calls every member to contend for the faith He has delivered to His people (Jude 3).

NEXT: Commissioned Minister Crisis 2: UCC Commissioned Minister Policy Compared to World Church Practice

12 replies on “CM Crisis 1: What is a Commissioned Minister?”

Excellent clarification of the issues. My one concern is our use of the term “gospel ministry.” No one opposes women in gospel ministry as such, and to say this will naturally cause confusion. What we mean by this expression is actually “leadership in gospel ministry”–This alone is what is restricted to men. I believe this clarifying language should be incorporated into all our statements about who is qualified for gospel ministry. When we speak of ordination we are referring to being ordained (appointed) to leadership in gospel ministry, and should be careful to always state it as such: “leadership in gospel ministry.” The Bible language is just that specific. How much objection might this stop? Maybe 70-80%. I realize there is also a worldly cultural push to elevate women to leadership in spite of plain Biblical and SOP teaching. But we can do our part to improve our communication of the real issues.

That’s interesting.
It seems to me that we (maybe I shouldn’t say we, though) have too advanced bureaucratic structure as for relatively similar tasks.
“Credentials, licenses, less than 5 years, more than 5 years..”
Why wouldn’t it be one of the functions of elders? or deacons?
Too much of bureaucracy.
No wonder they use this fact for their advantage

I totally agree. The complexity of the categories makes for a confusing structure, indeed. Why not have just two (for instance) main categories – “ordained minister/pastor” and “commissioned worker”? Under the latter, the commissioning certificate may then specify which further category or class of worker one is.

So right from the start we can see where the room is made for error to enter into our doctrine and practice. The Word makes no allowance for 5 different categories/levels of pastors. We should get back to the Word!

It would seem wrong for there to be no serious distinction made between those who minister in specific but non-congregation-leading ways (like commissioned minister), and the ordained minister and who becomes a primary spiritual leader in a congregation. Probably most CAP pastors would agree that the ordained minister and commissioned minister should not overlap with the exactly the same tasks, but would it really be wrong to have carefully differentiated credentials for different kinds of tasks in ministry? So long as a primary congregational leader is an elder, and a commissioned minister who is not a spiritual-qualified male is not an elder but accomplishes distinct kinds of non-congregational ministry, why would that be a problem? The problem is when it is permitted—against biblical counsel—to make a woman an elder and to lead a congregation against God’s creation order. Interested in reactions to this. Is there a problem with having distinct different credentials so long as they are in harmony with God’s creation order?

At the time of apostolic Church there were only two different ministries – spiritual leadership (Apostles and elders) and management (deacons).
Did they overlapped in duties? Yes, they did. Deacon Phillip baptized Ethiopian eunuch, just like apostles did. Apostles gathered gifts to Jerusalem Church, performing the work of management.
Obviously the duties of deacons could be divided into two, three or more offices, but who needed it anyway?
Even though the deacons were spiritual persons as well, among chosen deacons in Jerusalem there wasn’t any woman.
And since the office of deaconess is mentioned in the Bible, I think it was position for some specific tasks related to women only which a regular deacon couldn’t perform.
So answering to your question I would say this is not a sin to have three or more ministerial positions in the Church. But wouldn’t it be better to have less than three of them in order to simplify our life and not to have a mess with the question whose duty should be performed by whom?

Is it wrong to have different “kinds” of “ministers?” I believe it certainly is a serious error, and it seems clear to many that it is an error that has done much to allow for the present creeping compromise. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully argue that the current complexity regarding this matter has in no way contributed to our current problems. Setting that practical argument aside for the moment, I will mention only a few central reasons why I feel the current system is quite in error (a full explanation being impossible here). First, it does not resemble the biblical model of church organization. There is no biblical example of it (have you heard that argument before?). In God’s Word He teaches us how to organize ourselves. The church, in the Bible, is comprised of three primary categories. They are; laity, deacons, elders. In order to be a member of each of these categories, one needed to meet certain minimum criteria/qualifications. Leaving aside the categories of laity and deacon, let’s look briefly at that of elder. The qualifications for being an elder are clearly presented. While it is a topic for another setting, I will mention here that the fact that we have created a fourth category of “Pastor,” would not be a problem if we had refrained from assigning to it special privileges not also given to all elders. The role of Pastor, as it is now practiced in our church is needed and cannot be substantially argued against from a strictly biblical basis. But the rights and privileges thereunto pertaining to any “Pastor” at any level of our church organization should be identical to that of any local elder, with the exception of the fact that the paid “Pastor” has the additional administrative duties that necessarily fall to him. For now, back to the point about biblical elders, the category that includes our modern day “elders” and “pastors.” Please notice that there is only one set of qualifications for being an elder. There are not differing levels or sets of qualifications for different “kinds” of elders. In the Bible, an elder, is an elder, is an elder; and every elder has all rights and privileges that all other elders have. And that’s because all elders have met the same standards for qualification and all elders should be able to perform at a minimal level of competence in any conceivable role an elder might be called upon to fill. Will each elder be gifted in particular functions? Sure. The Gifts of the Spirit are given to all! This does not negate the fact that all elders are, by definition, leaders of the entire flock and should be capable of at least the most basic leadership in any area within the Body. This idea that some elders can and should be limited to just being leaders of certain segments of the Body, such as just the children, or just the women, or just the music programming, or just the family and prayer outreach, or just the …, is not a biblical idea, it is not logical, it is not efficient or necessary, and it’s not right. Those who feel called to minister only to a portion of the church, are by the declaration of such a calling giving clear evidence that they are not being led to be elders of the church, as elders, by definition, are elders of the whole House, not just a room in the House. Neither do these individuals need to be elders, but under the supervision and guidance of the elders, who have the whole Body in mind, and not just a foot or an ear, as they perform their duties. So, again, there is no biblical example of multiple “kinds,” or levels of elders. And in fact, the biblical instructions and evident rationale for the role of elder inherently prohibits such an idea. So is it wrong to have different “kinds” of “ministers?” Yes it is wrong. And this wrong has contributed to the implementation of other wrongs. We should get back to the Bible! May the Lord help us to do so!

Kenneth, your post is thought-provoking. An argument can certainly be made as you have offered. The point of difficulty is that unlike deacons, etc., the ordained minister is a tithe-reimbursed full-time pay ministry. Without the granting of certain credentials, certain tax benefits do not accrue to clergy. Paid ministry has some significant benefits (e.g. parsonage allowance) but there is a trade-off too, for example, that while pastors work for a conference, they are considered to be “self-employed” for tax purposes (meaning, for example, that an out of work pastor cannot collect unemployment benefits, etc.). Spiritual concerns should dominate in ministry over renumerational concerns. But the commissioned minister credential likely exists in part as an attempt to help female gospel workers receive comparable compensation to male workers. The problem can perhaps be largely solved (as we will argue further on in this series of articles), by returning to the biblical plan for elders, i.e., discontinuing the practice of appointing women “elders.” Then we could have commissioned ministers serving in specific kinds of ministry and the church could have the full benefit of their service, and at the same time we could follow the biblical model for leadership in which only spiritually-qualified males serve as elders.

That’s interesting too.
What you say, as I understand, is that present structure of the Church is the result of its interaction with IRS, right?
So the money indeed is the root of any evil

There is a very remarkable article on the introduction of the commissioned minister credential and the IRS written by C Mervyn Maxwell. I’m sure you can locate it somewhere on the internet, like AdventistsAffirm. Whenever the state can provide financial incentive on something to the church there is danger. I think that must be admitted. At the same time realize that if you were a church administrator and you had an opportunity to apparently save the church and its workers a lot of money in a way the government is telling you is legitimate, you can imagine that you would likely think yourself a good steward. And so, this aspect is what t is. I don;t think we are justifying it here, just recognizing that piece as part of the totality.
CMC 3 is coming up…

Thanks admin, for your response. It seems we are very close to being on the same page. I’ll just share a few more thoughts. I agree that, indeed, the problem can be resolved by returning to the biblical plan for elders. If the church only appoints men to the position of elder, and that of pastor, then there shouldn’t be any problem regarding appropriateness of pay for the women involved in various kinds of ministry, as none of the women would be involved in ministry involving care and responsibility for the whole House of God, but would instead be laboring in various “Rooms” within the House. Then you might point out that many men are also only serving in certain “rooms” in the house and not charged with responsibility for the whole House. If these men are called to such work, then let them do it as unto the Lord, and let them be paid according to the level/nature of the work they are doing. Then let the women who are doing the very same kind of work be paid fairly for the work they do. But remember that neither the men who work in these “rooms” nor the women who do so, need to be credentialed as any sort of “minister” in order to clear the way for them to be paid a fair wage for the work they do. They can be paid fairly regardless of the label/title they have been given. These positions could have any of literally countless labels we might wish to give them without the need to resort to labels such as “minister,” “pastor,” or any such. Neither must they be credentialed nor ordained in any way (though this may be allowable and appropriate in various situations) in order to allow us to make the right decision of giving them fair pay. And while it seems likely that we could also arrange things so that a man or woman, who is working in gospel ministry, but is not an elder nor ordained, would be able to take advantage of certain tax benefits; we should also keep in mind that we cannot allow our doctrine to be adjusted based on IRS regulations. We should do our best to do right and be fair. But the laws of the land cannot change God’s Law. And to be clear, let me restate that we should keep in mind that any idea or principle of “equal pay,” within the context of a biblically correct ecclesiastical structure, could only operate at levels of administration that include both men and women. So when we get to the level of an elder/pastor, the principle, as it relates to men and women, is no longer needed, since elders/pastors should include only men. May God continue to uphold His Church, and may we hear His Voice and open the door to Him, so that He will come in and sup with us!

I know the article of elder Maxwell, even translated it to Russian once 🙂
If it so, then the structure is just a consequence and not the primary cause.
But even bankers know that reputation is more valuable thing than money gain.
The leaders will need to have a lot of courage to make things straight because it promises to be very costly.

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