Choosing Commissioning Rather Than Ordination

By Krissy Barber & Liesl Vistaunet

As a young person, Stephen Lundquist had plans to follow in his family’s footsteps by physically healing people through healthcare.

But God had different ideas.

Stephen attended Upper Columbia Academy, where he was chosen by his fellow students to speak for a Week of Prayer service. That experience was a jolt in his plans to pursue medicine. He was met with a clear call to spiritually heal others through ministry. It was followed by years of study, education, missionary work, seminary, ministerial work, and, eventually, teaching.

The Oregon Conference recently held a commissioning service at PAA to publicly recognize Pastor Stephen's calling to and preparation for a sacred ministry. Stephen chose to be commissioned rather than ordained. We were curious about his decision, so asked him if he would be willing to share some of his thoughts through the decision-making process, and what he hopes the Seventh-day Adventist church will look like in the future.

Oregon Conference:  Did the GC Session vote on ordination affect your decision?

Stephen: The GC decision from the summer heavily influenced my decision. I am convinced that the Bible does not give a clear “thus saith the Lord” on the question of women’s ordination. Instead, we must make a practical, Spirit-led decision on how to best fulfill our clear calling from Christ to love God and others. How do we most effectively love in our geographic areas of influence in the year 2015? One step toward fulfilling that calling is equally recognizing and credentialing both men and women as spiritual leaders called by God in the Adventist church. I was hopeful that church divisions would have the option to move forward with ordaining women after the summer. Obviously that did not happen.

I found myself in a unique position. My requirements were completed and my ordination was voted at the conference and union levels prior to GC session, but the actual ordination service was scheduled for after the session.  

OC: Why did you choose to be  commissioned rather than ordained?

S: I don’t like thinking about or discussing women’s ordination as an “issue.” It is not an issue. It is people. When I hear the term “women’s ordination,” specific faces come to my mind. After the GC session vote, the first faces that came to my mind were those of my female colleagues in ministry. I was privileged to journey through both college and seminary with incredibly gifted women. We took the same preaching classes and struggled through the same Greek and Hebrew courses together. These women now live all over the country and world fulfilling their calling as pastors. I couldn’t figure out why I should have a preferred credential over those who followed the same educational and vocational path as me based solely on my gender. This simply didn’t make sense.

The second group of faces that came to mind was my high school students. As they journey toward graduation, I watch with anticipation as God calls some of them to full-time pastoral ministry—both males and females. A few years ago a senior girl came by my office to share her heart. She confided that she felt called by God to ministry but wasn’t sure she could fulfill that call in the Adventist church. She didn’t see the church as a safe and affirming place for her to pastor because of her gender. That conversation broke my heart. I think many of my students would sum up the whole women’s ordination discussion in two words: equality and justice. And I don’t blame them. After the vote, one of my male students lamented that our church is nearly one hundred years behind our nation in recognizing the value, intelligence, and abilities of women.  

The third face that came to mind was that of my one-year-old daughter. As she grows older I want to be able to look her in the eyes and honestly say, “You can do anything God calls you to do in life. Anything.” Sometimes I imagine having a conversation with her when she is in high school. Hopefully by then our church will no longer have two levels of credentialed pastoral leadership. As she studies church history and hears about the way the church wrestled over women’s ordination, I wonder if she will look at me and ask, “Dad, this was during your time. What did you do about it?” I can’t change the vote. But I can follow my conscience in practicing equality in Christ as I understand it.

Ordination is supposed to enhance ministry. But as these faces came to mind, I quickly realized that accepting this privilege based on my gender would hinder, not help my ministry. The choice to be commissioned instead of ordained was clear. With integrity I can communicate support and value to my female colleagues, students, and daughter. If someday women are ordained in our church, I will join them. But until then, I will serve as a commissioned minister alongside them.

OC: How have your colleagues and students reacted to your choice?

S: The response to my decision has been overwhelmingly positive. I feel fortunate to work in a conference that wholeheartedly supported and approved my decision to be commissioned. I feel a great deal of affirmation from administrators, colleagues, and students at PAA. Of course, some disagree with my decision. And I can respect their views.

OC: What do you hope our church looks like when your daughter is an adult?

S: Unless all Adventist pastors are recognized as equal both in practice and in policy, we settle for a fragmented view of a God who created male and female together in His image (Genesis 1:27). I dream of a church that embraces the reality that the gospel urges, no, demands a new way to view others who are different from us. Paul audaciously proclaimed, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Only when Christ empowers us to view one another through the lens of the gospel can we truly practice and experience equality. That someday all humanity be embraced as equal, that is my dream for my church and my daughter.