I was so glad to get your email. Seeing your faith develop has been a highlight of these last two years. It has been a great privilege, actually.
And now you tell me that you are feeling called to the ministry, or wondering if you are. You ask whether I think this could possibly be.
Since you asked me for my thoughts, I’m happy to share them. It is too bad that you now live at such a distance, since it would be much easier to just chat over coffee.
My first answer is two answers: “Yes” and “Maybe.”
Yes, You Are Called to Ministry
First the “Yes.” You can be completely sure that you are called to ministry.
How can I be so sure? For this I take my cue from Martin Luther.
Luther taught that when each of us is baptized, we are baptized into Christ, joined to him personally as part of his Body.
You’ve probably heard the Church referred to as “the Body of Christ.” For Luther this is not just shorthand for the human organization. Rather it makes us take the people of faith far more seriously than a mere human organization: we are invisibly and permanently woven into a living organism, and that organism is the way Christ himself is present and does his will on the earth.
So, for Luther, if you are actually united to Christ himself, then whatever he is about, you must be about.
Christ is about ministry. You need to be about ministry.
Luther explains this in terms of Christ as our High Priest, as the author of Hebrews says he is. Joined to him, we share his priestly ministry; as Peter wrote, we are “a royal priesthood,” each and every one of us.
Christ’s work is about priesthood, bringing God’s word to the people, and bringing the people’s needs to God. And no matter how much a lot of Protestants dislike it, your ministry and my ministry is therefore also priestly.
So yes, you are a Christian now, joined to Christ your one High Priest, and you are called to ministry. Just like all the rest of us.
Maybe You Are, Maybe You Aren’t
Now the “Maybe”: When you talk about being called to the ministry it all hinges on the little word “THE.” By this you mean ordained service in the Church, probably as pastor of a particular congregation. The thing is, pastoral work is not “THE” ministry. Pastoral work is “A” ministry.
There are many, many kinds of ministry. Each of us is called to some work that embodies Christ’s character and will in the world.
Sometimes it is easy to see our daily work as ministry in this sense. Sometimes not. In Luther’s sense of things, in our interconnected society, everything you do that is needed by others, whether you are a bricklayer, a teacher, a homemaker, a lawyer, or whatever, is a legitimate part of your priestly work — so long as it is something ethically upright.
Sometimes we find other forms of service more directly express Christ’s love and seek to build his peace and justice. Those may feel more like ministry.
The mistake is thinking that only pastoral work is ministry.
So are you called to the particular form of ministry that people are ordained to in the Church? Maybe so, maybe not.
I’ve gone on a bit long already, so I’ll share some other thoughts on how to discern that later. I hope you’ll write back so we can keep up the conversation!
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