One of the joys of my life is sitting with people as they try to figure out what God is telling them. Seminarians wonder about their Call to Ministry and what they’ll do after theological school. Church officers wonder if God is telling their church to “go big or go home.” Pastors wonder if God is calling them away from a particular congregation and – if so – where are they supposed to go next?
Coming off the journey of the Magi who followed a star, we are most likely not going to get a star to indicate our path. But there are other ways that God leads us.
I shared before about the excellent This American Life episode called Baby’s First Christmas and in one of the segments, Allen – who was training to be a shopping center Santa – mentioned someone he knew named Pastor Don. While in graduate school for a counseling degree, Pastor Don’s professor asked:
“How many of you have people who are already coming to you for counseling?”
Don and a few other students raised their hands. Then the professor said, “I’m going to be honest with you. If people aren’t already coming to you, getting a degree from here probably won’t change that. You’re either the kind of person people want to confide in, or you’re not.”
I believe this to be true. Effective pastors often attract people and their spiritual questions long before they start seminary. It’s just something they were born with.
This is not to say that – if nobody ever asked you about the meaning of life prior to seminary – you aren’t called to professional ministry. But I will share that through these years of ministry myself, I’ve heard time and again about pastors who should have been professors, or pastors with weak emotional intelligence, or pastors with no people skills. Is God calling you to be a professional minister? Listen for clues from what trusted people have observed about your gifts.
Some of us land in an occupation because that’s what our parents did and it takes enormous courage to step away from that family business. What if God calls you to be a librarian in a family of chefs? What if you are called to be a dentist in a family of farmers? (Whether we like it or not, we’ve all witnessed what happens when the family business involves royalty but all you want to do is move to Montecito.)
Fortunately, most of us are privileged with many choices even when we aren’t Royal. And some choose seminary.
Actually fewer people are choosing seminary or theological training these days for a number of reasons from “I’ll never make enough of an income to pay back my student loans” to “The institutional Church is in decline to the point that there will be no churches sooner than later.”
Yes, the Church is changing (thanks be to God.)
And also there will still be roles for professional church leaders in the future.
All these choices involve spiritual discernment. What do you find yourself already being called upon to do? What sparks special interest in your soul? What feels like a true fit? What nudges are gnawing at you?
I was told – along with my classmates in our Introduction to the Old Testament class – to drop out and choose another vocation if there was anything in the world – other than professional ministry – that we could possibly do. I couldn’t think of anything.
I was an unofficial pastor before I was an official pastor. Seminary and subsequent experience helped me hone my skills and fill my toolbox. This doesn’t mean that I’m holier or smarter or dumber than those called into politics or medicine or mechanics or bartending. It just means that – for now – God has called me to this and I’m grateful. I never want to be doing anything God is not calling me to do.
What is God calling you to do and be? Listen and watch for signs. Even if you don’t seem to be the typical _____, it doesn’t mean it’s not your calling. I had never see or met a clergywoman until my first day of seminary and I ended up here. And yet here I am almost 40 years later.
Where is God calling you? And where are you clearly not called to be?