Yes, as you say, it does sound like I’m saying seminary is for everybody. Not every seminary is for everybody, of course.
But a solid education in the Bible, in the Church’s history and its teachings, and in how to approach the tasks of ministry that take disciples into God’s mission is a great thing for anyone who wants to grow and serve Christ.
But a seminary education takes a significant amount of work and expense. Most who start it are seriously considering ministry as a full-time vocation.
That means people like you start asking people like me whether their sense of call is legit.
And sometimes that leads people like me to tell people like you some pretty goofy things.
Chances are, if you’ve asked other people about whether you are called to ministry, someone has said to you
Don’t go into ministry unless you just can’t do anything else.
That can be a horrible thing to tell someone.
You see, there are two ways to take that old piece of advice.
One way is not very helpful at all. In fact as a seminary professor, I’ve come to resent it. It leads to some of the finite number of seats in a seminary classroom being filled by people who are not up to the task.
- Can’t pass accounting? Go to seminary.
- Can’t get into medical school? Go to seminary.
- Can’t get or keep a job as a dishwasher? teacher? construction worker? radiology technician? Go to seminary.
If the Christian searching for a vocation just can’t do anything else, then off to seminary they go. And from there, sad to say, kind and gentle souls in many denominations will allow them to be ordained and place them in charge of congregations.
Having pastors whose primary evidence of God’s call is their general incompetence does not bode well for a thriving Church.
God does often use the most unlikely people — but God also gives gifts to those unlikely people, and it is those gifts that are needed by the Church and the world. Ministry requires the best that each of us has to offer; and the Churches need people with a range of serious skills and abilities to lead them effectively.
Of course when people give this advice they mean it another way entirely.
And the other meaning of this piece of advice is very good:
- if you are so passionate for the gospel,
- if you long and ache to grow and guide a congregation,
- if you just can’t be happy unless every ounce of your energy and every hour of your day is spent in God’s mission,
…then surely you have one fine indicator that you are being called.
It still isn’t a guarantee that it is God who is calling you, but that’s a subject for another day.
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