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Called to Ordained Ministry?

Over on his blog, Levellers, Michael Westmoreland-White has been discussing ministerial vocations, specifically: how to prepare academically for seminary and the various roles pastors/ministers are expected to play. This got me thinking about a time a while back when someone I know commented that she was pondering whether God was calling her into some kind of vocation in ministry. I finally tracked down a copy of the advice I sent her, here polished somewhat for a general readership.

(1) Get together with the minister at your church with whom you are most comfortable. Have them talk to you about opportunities to try “real-live” ministry on for size: as a small group leader, deacon, member of a ministry-oriented committee or task force, etc. Eventually, being a pastor means working with churches (you know, people!), and that means the church has every right to examine your gifts and see if they match what you think you’re hearing from God. The early church had it right by requiring all pastors to start out as deacons and to impose age restrictions on the higher church offices.

(2) Talk with your pastor friends. Especially, ask them to tell you their “horror stories.” Demand they be candid with you about the downside of church work: the toll it can take on their families, the lack of privacy, the competing (and contradictory) expectations, etc. This is a step that needs to be taken with eyes wide open. Anything you can do to clear away the “romance” of the job will serve you well, no matter what you decide to do.

(3) If you’re married, talk with your spouse. And then talk some more. And then talk a lot more. This decision will affect your spouse, and going forward without his or her blessing is a recipe for sure disaster on numerous fronts.

(4) Seek to answer for yourself why you think you are being drawn to pastoring. What is it that pastors do that you can’t already do as a layperson‚Äîand why are those things appealing to you? Is this God speaking or are there factors that are making you dissatisfied with where your life is right now, hungry for spiritual fulfillment you are somehow not getting, or whatever?

(5) Take to heart the encouragement all your friends have given you over the years about the gifts they see in you and the ways they appreciate you. God is already working in your life, and will continue to do so.

(6) Ponder the fact that you’re reading vocational advice from someone who left the pastorate for health reasons: I was sick of them and they were sick of me!

(7) These things are supposed to have seven points—good biblical number. So here is number 7.

Some of my readers are or were pastors/ministers, or are married to one, or perhaps met one at a Rotary club meeting somewhere. Is there anything else you would suggest to someone who is wondering whether God is calling them to ordained ministry?


2 Comments

  1. PS says:

    A couple of people I know were already doing “ministry” but didn’t think in terms of a call or ordination, until a pastor planted the seed and encouraged them. In one case, the planting pastor was from a denomination that doesn’t ordain women, but he saw the gifts in that woman.

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  2. Psalmist says:

    This is an excellent list, Dr. P. The most helpful thing I did during my own formal discernment work (required by my denomination) was part of their written study work in which we were given numerous (probably about 20) biblical examples of God calling individuals. Being the over-achiever I (sometimes) am, I did in-depth study and research on ALL of them. The point was to find which call(s) most closely resembled my own, and why. What that did for me was show me that there wasn’t a “worthy” one in the bunch, but God called them all anyway.

    A note for the women among your readers who may be struggling with a possible call to representative ministry: Even if your denomination doesn’t discourage women from service as ordained ministers, some members almost certainly will, even if not in your own congregation. Do yourself a favor and study about what the Bible does and does not say about women as church leaders. Before I ever got up the nerve to talk with a pastor about my fear (that’s what it was for me) that God was calling me to be a pastor, I dug through the Scriptures to prove to myself that God doesn’t ever call women to such a thing. To my dismay, I found that’s not the case. No, no women are explicitly named as pastors (just as no men are). That “prohibition” was mainly in my mind (my denomination does ordain women and had for many years before I did my study), and of course formalized in the rules for some other Christian denominations. But I think that if a woman prepares for ordained ministry without both knowing that she will face opposition simply for being a woman, and being certain what scriptural foundation she stands on when she faces such opposition, she is going to have a problem. It’s “just not right” that you should have to deal with the double-standard, but it does exist and it’s far better to be prepared, IMO.

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