Career Impact of Ordination vs Commissioning

One aspect of the Women’s Ordination debate that has largely escaped scrutiny during the Ted Wilson era is how denial of ordination impacts the careers of female pastors. The SDA Church is comprised of men and women. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that. In fact, in the pews, women significantly outnumber men. But when Adventist ministerial leaders meet, it is the glaring absence of women that often is most visible.

The Andrews University theological seminary, where theologians and gospel workers are trained, is the flagship institution of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The seminary’s Church Ministry Department offers two degrees: Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Doctor of Ministry (DMin.) – specifically tailored for ministry in the Adventist Church. Rarely do non-Adventists or individuals unaffiliated with Adventist Conferences enroll in these programs. That is why an overwhelming majority of students in the two programs are “sponsored” in some form by local Adventist Conferences, whose officials routinely provide recommendations for prospective students. Both the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists and the North American Division (NAD) consider the MDiv program as “the basic training for Adventist ministry.”

The current MDiv or DMin admission criteria has no gender prohibition. Consequently when students of either gender clear all admission hurdles and are enrolled in these programs, they do so with the expectation that, when they finish their training and are employed by their Conferences, their employers would treat them equitably. One reason the commissioning/ordination discussion has been so contentious may be that how a pastor is labeled profoundly affects, and to a significant degree determines, the limits of their career path. Before Pastor Wilson began his tenure as the GC president, it was theoretically possible, though not demonstrably so, for women to climb up the administrative ladder in the church. This is how Ella Simmons became a GC Vice President (VP).

One of the first changes Elder Wilson made as president was to close the “loophole” that made Ella Simmons’ VP position at the GC possible: he made top leadership positions in the church conditional, based on ordination exclusively, and has worked tirelessly to reserve ordination for male pastors only. With this move, Elder Wilson seems to have “weaponized” the word Ordination, as well as the ritual surrounding the ordination process. Those ordained, we are made to imagine, are imbued with a special something that appears to be lacking with commissioning. This is the only plausible inference because both rituals (ordination and commissioning) follow an identical pattern that culminates with the “praying over” and “laying on of hands” on the ordained or commissioned pastors.

From the inception of his coupling leadership with ordination, Elder Wilson has permitted women to be commissioned as they had previously. But commissioned women were ineligible to become presidents of Conferences, Unions, Divisions or the GC. Neither could they become Secretaries in these entities because a secretary is second to the president in the administrative hierarchy and must be able to fill in as acting president when needed. So Ella Simmons was “grand mothered” as a woman GC Vice President. When she retires or is not re-appointed, the General Conference’s Administrative Committee would return to the time when it was an all-male body with no female representation or perspective.

I used to think that the president’s refusal to list Sandra Roberts’ name as President of the Southeastern California Conference (SECC) in the GC directory was pettiness. And in some ways, I still see that. After all, Pastor Roberts has led her constituency competently through a full five-year term and was recently overwhelmingly re-elected to the same position. We now have data to evaluate her leadership capabilities. We have not seen any unusual happenings during her tenure as SECC leader that is attributable solely to gender. So to continue to leave her name out of the yearbook because of her gender is petty.

But I’m gradually concluding that Pastor Wilson’s position in this instance seems to be borne out of an attempt to subvert history. The thinking might be that by leaving her name out, future generations might conclude that no woman has ever been elected or served as Conference president. The usual way of resolving such disputed entry (although this dispute is wholly of the President’s making) is to list the name and position with an asterisk by it, explaining the objections. Done this way, the historical record is preserved.

But let us set aside the sacerdotal implications for ordination and commissioning now and consider how these terms impact the careers of men and women pastors under the system the President has been advocating. Under this scenario two pastors, one male (ordained) the other female (commissioned), could have identical service records but the female would never be eligible for leadership roles.

Pastor Wilson no longer contends that women cannot be pastors. And as pastors, women do everything male pastors do: preach, baptize, perform baby dedications, officiate in marriage ceremonies, visit the sick, conduct funeral services, etc. The one thing not allowed is the privilege of being “set apart,” – of ordination. And, because women’s ordination is called commissioning, women pastors cannot be leaders in the church. In Pastor Wilson’s thinking, since ordination is reserved for men, and ordination is a pre-requisite to top church leadership positions, only men can become leaders.

In one sense, Wilson’s stand against ordaining women is a continuation of his father’s fight in the early 1970s to prevent women church workers from being paid the same as men. Back then Neal Wilson argued in federal court that men are natural heads of families, which then entitled them to substantially higher wages than women for the same work. That was the Merikay Silver Case, which the institutional church lost.

Since then, women church employees have enjoyed the protected right to be paid based on ability and not gender. What the current Wilson administration seems to be arguing is that women ministers should have no expectation to career advancement because of their gender, a sad throwback to an era in SDA history the church would rather forget. Once commissioned, under prevailing constraints, an SDA woman pastor hits the proverbial glass ceiling. And if this situation continues, women ministers would face an analogous situation to Merikay. The Commissioned pastors would train young male pastors, who would then pass them by up the career ladder.

This loops back to the Andrews SDA Theological Seminary, site of the MDiv program which the GC recommends as the entry level educational requirement for pastors. As of Spring Semester 2018, close to 480 students were enrolled in this program. Roughly 80 are women. In the NAD, arguably the most progressive Division on the ordination subject, there are approximately 4200 pastors, around 200 of whom are women. That’s a 21-1 male-female ratio in a general population of at least 58 women to 42 men. These are stunning figures, but the NAD aims to change this through an ambitious initiative to increase the number of female pastors to 1000. This initiative encourages local Conferences to recruit women for the ministry by a three-way cost sharing sponsorship among the NAD, Unions and Conferences. Using the Spring semester numbers, the plan seems to be making a small but measurable rise towards the 1000. An overwhelming majority of the 80 women enrolled in the MDiv program at the SDA Theological Seminary are from the NAD.

So far, the GC hasn’t commented on the slow but growing number of female pastors in the NAD or the increasing numbers of those in training. At some point these numbers will hit a critical mass. When that time comes, the current use of semantic niceties like “ordination” and “commissioning” to hinder women from fully accessing pastoral ministry will appear anachronistic. If we reach that point, will the GC bar women from the MDiv program?

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at:

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thanks, Matthew, for making it crystal clear how “commissioning” of women pastors bars them from using their leadership skills at all levels of our church.

Will it take another court case and decree from the U.S. government to right these wrongs again just as Merikay Silver challenged the unjust and illegal policies of the church then? And will it be, ironically, Ted Wilson, the son, presiding this time over injustice towards women and their ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s calling?


There are many that bear the blame for treating women pastors differently than the men are treated. No one person, even at a “buck stops here” position, should be singled out as being the villain in this story. This is a problem with church culture and involving the collective attitudes of entire continents/divisions. Let’s please speak about the problem and not of any single person’s part in it - as if the script would change should any single player on the stage be replaced.

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Your post is THE DEFINITIVE WORD on the subject.

For those with a level head, a fair mind, having and valuing an intelligent approach to difficult issues, instead of resorting to kindergarten tantrums, see here: Ordination of women in Protestant denominations.

Ecc. 1:9-10


Once again Matthew Quartey, you have “nailed it “.

It is called a GLASS CEILING — a barrier to promotion— a discriminatory bottleneck to advancement. Adventism has laid a minefield of obstacles and impediments to blockade women with administrative ability from achieving accomplishment at higher levels of the denomination.

As you rightly emphasize, the majority of our church members are female.

Every woman in Adventism should be outraged by this.

Not just our professional women— MDs PhDs MBAs, attorneys, dentists accountants, but also our blue collar female members , janitors, assembly line workers.

This policy is an affront to every Adventist women.

TW aspires to degrade and depreciate our women members to be merely the clean up crew for the church potluck!

No wonder our female millennials leave the denomination in droves.

My Methodist congregation lists in its weekly worship bulletin, that our Methodist conference president is a clergywoman, as is our local bishop
(the equivalent of SDA’s Union Conference President.).

This is possible in Methodism, because that denomination has been ordaining their women pastors since 1956.

And thereby allowing advancement according to ability, not penis possession.



“Every woman in Adventism should be outraged by this.”
The women of the SDA church have been programmed through Ellen White
to have very low ambitions. And IF a woman has HIGH ambitions then THAT
Woman is judged and evaluated as NOT FOLLOWING GOD"S PLAN FOR
The brain-washing through the Testimonies will NOT let SDA women to see
that the Call of The Spirit to great things is NORMAL for the Spirit. And SHOULD
be NORMAL for the Seventh day Adventist Church
as it is for Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians.


" Let’s please speak about the problem and not of any single person’s part in it - as if the script would change should any single player on the stage be replaced."

Do you think that this would have happened under the past GC president if he were still in the same position today?


So who programmed the women of Israel in the days of Moses?

That’s a bit harsh for you to say, isn’t it? Nobody accuses you of being “brainwashed” by angry feminists. The courtesy extended so to you should prompt you to extend the same to others, by respecting their perception of the equal but distinctive roles men and women play in life.

The housewife is in every way equal to the mechanic. One cooks, the other repairs.



And here is why I am so firmly against the ordination of women! Women are not the problem and men are not the problem ordination is the problem. How does ordination work, Well it does little for the church other than build up the bureaucracy of the denomination. It is the path to power not the path to service, it follows the same path to power that the Roman Catholic church created when they started to say that they was only one official church in a city and one bishop for that city. It is an attempt to control the cause of Christ for the sake of the power of those hoping to climb the ladder of success in the denominational structure.

Please take the steps now at this crossroads of agitation and correct not the inequality of men and women in a job but the root cause of a system of bureaucratic control. Otherwise we simply continue the same problems as before only now we have more women involved in the bureaucracy. Will they be any better at refuting the authority of the church and their ability to climb the ladder anymore than men do…I doubt it.


TW’s definition of ordination is wholly of his imagining & therefore not in line with Scriptural teachings which include, justice, equality, giftedness, mission as well as the calling to ministry of the Gospel.


Career… how’s that different from tenure? If we’re really serious about reforming the bureaucratic control by clergy, back to local congregational pastoral ministry should be the rule after one term in any office, all the way from local conference to union, division and GC.

Well put.
– D. Fortin


My first reaction when I read the title of this great article was, “Oh no, another one on this subject? I am tired of it, tired of this discussion, tired of fighting against discrimination.”

But I read the article anyway, and it’s a good one. But honestly, I don’t want to get much into it again. It’s an unending, nonsensical discussion about discrimination of women. Just imagine, discrimination in a so-called Christian Church, or Denomination…

No, it’s not actually a Christian Denomination. The SDAC has become an abomination. And so it will remain for as long as it allows/promotes/enforces discrimination of women. What a shameful, un-Christian practice.


While I generally agree with the above article, I would like to say that there are some women in high administrative post, other Ella Simmons. For example: The Trans-European Division has a female executive secretary. The North American Division has a female vice president. The Columbia Union also has a female vice president. In addition to these examples you will find several females as ministry leaders at the North AMerican Division and in some conferences.

I totally agree that the ordination issue will affect women who aspire to pastoral ministry. But to say that they they will dead-end at the local church is not true. In the current climate, a young women in ministry should, along with their regular duties, develop a specialty. That could be youth and adult ministry, family ministry stewardship or discipleship ministry.

While the opportunities are few and far between, they are still there. I totally agree that women pastors will have a difficult time aspiring to hire office. But if they develop their talents, they will be recognized – in God’s time.


You probably do not understand the Policy Book.
Most Leadership jobs above the Local Pastor position REQUIRE one to be
ORDAINED, and NOT Commissioned.


oh yeah. then when the church loses the case, they will, no doubt, claim persecution!


Likewise, James, human-imposed policies do not usurp the Holy Spirit’s selection of people of either gender for gifts of spiritual leadership. That reality is the one being attacked by compliance committees who deny the Holy Spirit’s prerogative to extend spiritual gifts for ministry regardless of gender.


Ella Simmons is a Vice President in the Education Department.
Has NOTHING to do with Ministry.
She in NOT eligible to be a conference, union, division President.
She is NOT eligible to be a pastor of a local church.


Hear a word from the LORD:

whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave” Mat. 20:26-27

If women feel called by the Holy Spirit to lord it over a congregation, then should they not demonstrate this by serving, and slaving for that congregation? OR should they protest very loudly, marching around with placards of vitriol, hurling stones at those who sit in Moses’ seat?

What do you think?


I just finished listening to an ORDAINED woman pastor from LaSierra SDA church
on the Internet [Live Stream].
Matthew 1 was the text.
But LaSierra also celebrates ADVENT – the 4 weeks when there is the time to
Meditate [is it OK to use the Word in SDA surroundings?] on the Advent of
Jesus 2000 years ago. And to Meditate on the COMING Advent of Jesus Christ
in the Future.
Story by HER – Standing by the door as the “church” was leaving a gentleman asked
her what they were doing at service. She answered in reply that “We are celebrating
Advent”. He asked “What is Advent?” She said it was a time to pause and spend 4
weeks preparing our hearts for the coming of the Savior and what it means in our
lives." He said, You must be the ONLY Seventh day Adventist church that does this.
Her comment to the congregation was – Isn’t is amazing, since we have the Word
“Adventist” in our name, that we don’t take the time to meditate on what it means –
ADVENT? At this time of year, just before Christmas.


“Glass ceiling”
That’s why I have consistently stated that the WO issue is a civil rights issue. The lessons of the past inform me that it will take a fight, that is to say, the Adventist version of civil unrest and civil disobedience, to bring about change. Why? Because the interests in the church that are vested in maintaining male dominance will have to have their position wrested from them. Vested interests never willingly gave up their privileges without a fight.