Discerning a call to ministry is an exciting and pivotal moment in your life, but it can be a daunting processfor many individuals. Whether you are a recent graduate, considering a career change, or simply feel a tug on your heartstrings towards ministry, it is important to take the time to truly understand and explore this calling. Ministry is a unique and challenging vocation that requires a deep understanding of your personal motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, a clear understanding of what God is calling you to do.
A life of ministry requires a lifetime of hard work and dedication, all while facing challenges on multiple fronts, but if you discern that the call to ministry is right for you and the benefits outweigh the possible challenges, you’ll be much more likely to succeed down the path of ministry.
In this blog article, we will explore some practical steps you can take to discern a call to ministry and determine if this is truly the path God has set before you.
What is a Call to Ministry?
A call to ministry is the feeling a person experiences when they sense they’re being called by God to a specific position or ministry, usually in an official capacity within a church. This could mean anything from holding the title of pastor to bible study teacher.
Bible References for a Call to Ministry
There are multiple references to this sense of calling in the bible. The Old Testament is full of God calling ordinary people to extraordinary action: Abraham and Sarah who left their home and established the tribes of Israel, Moses who overcame his self-doubt to lead God’s people, David the lowly shepherd who committed his life to serving God, Esther who boldly acted to save her people, the prophet Isaiah who faithfully answered God, “Here I am! Send me!” The New Testament, too, shows us people courageously responding to a call from God: the teenaged Mary who consented to bear the Son of God, the apostles who left their livelihoods behind to follow Jesus, Paul who turned from persecuting Christians to encouraging them, Timothy, the young man who became a missionary and pastor in the early church.
Scripture also shows the importance of receiving counsel and affirmation from others during the exploration of a call to ministry. Eli helped Samuel recognize the voice of God, which empowered Samuel to respond, “Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). Paul mentored Timothy, helping Timothy “fan into flame the gift of God” in his life (2 Timothy 1:6).
Every Call to Ministry is Unique; It is Your Own
There are multiple versions of a call to ministry. Some experience a more direct call, such as witnessing a miracle, receiving a sign, or hearing God speak to them. Others feel the call in childhood, growing up knowing that their path will be one of ministry. These two types of calls are powerful but rare. The more common calls are gradual, usually made up of a lifetime of events where an individual grows to love and respect both God and the church, and finds that serving both is what they are meant to do.
Sometimes this gradual call will include hearing from a mentor, pastor, or church member that they believe you’d be successful in a lifetime of ministry. Other times you might be faced with a leadership opportunity that seems to open your eyes to the call. No matter what type of call you experience, it’s important that you listen to the signs and respect the importance of discernment.
Signs of a Call to Ministry
When wondering if you should pursue seminary, you might find yourself first assessing the signs you’ve experienced that have made you feel like you’ve been called to ministry. One common experience is feeling a strong passion within oneself to serve others, whether through ministry or in other ways. Others might feel a strong desire to share the Gospel, answering Jesus’ command in Mark 16:15 when, “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’.”
It might not initially be a calling you feel within yourself that drives you to ministry. It might instead be something that others point out. You may have been told in the past that you would be a great church leader, or someone may have pointed out the incredible spiritual gifts you possess. You might have personal experiences of success with using your abilities, perhaps in youth leadership roles or volunteer environments. If these encouragements and experiences align with a call to ministry, they will resonate with your spirit and may lead to a strong inner conviction that you are following God’s path for your life.
Discerning a Call to Ministry
As you are discerning your call to ministry, it is important that you take all the necessary steps to find certainty of the path you’ll be taking. Prayer is key to this process. Be still in God’s presence and seek God’s guidance and wisdom for your next steps.
Other wisdom should be sought out through counsel among ministry peers, such as your pastor, a spiritual mentor, or devoted church friends. With the help of these counselors, as well as on your own, you can evaluate your personal strengths and weaknesses and compare them with the requirements of a successful journey in ministry.
Finally, you’ll want to consider practical factors such as current opportunities in your area or if you’re willing to relocate if opportunity is scarce. Other practical things to consider before pursuing a life of ministry are the challenges you may face in the future.
Considerations of Pursuing a Call to Ministry
Discerning a call to ministry is not an easy task, and it comes with a unique set of challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is the uncertainty and doubt that can come with discernment. It can be difficult to discern if the call is coming from God or if it is motivated by personal desires and ambitions. Additionally, the process of discernment can be a long and difficult one, requiring prayer, guidance, and patience.
Opinions of Others
Another challenge is the potential for opposition from friends, family, and even within one’s own faith community. Society’s view of ministry can also be a challenge, as it may not be seen as a desirable or financially stable career path.
Finally, the demands and responsibilities of ministry can be daunting, including the need for personal spiritual growth and development, the ability to work with diverse groups of people, and the potential for burnout. All of these challenges require a great deal of prayer, reflection, and ongoing discernment to navigate successfully.
It may help you to review the benefits of a seminary degree so you can compare possible challenges with the advantages.
Steps to Take After Discerning a Call to Ministry
Decide What Degree is Right for You
If you’ve decided that a life of ministry is right for you, the next step is to look into a seminary degree. During your time in seminary, you will gain invaluable knowledge and skills. You’ll pursue a theological education that will cover topics such as the Bible, the history of theology, the structure of worship, and the role of a minister. At the same time, you’ll gain practical experience in things like individual and marital pastoral counseling, the art of preaching, and skills needed for successful community relations and administration.
Seek a Mentor or Guidance Counselor
One of the most valuable things gained at seminary is the network you’ll build. Not only will you gain friends and relationships that will allow you to build an invaluable community of support and guidance, but you’ll also want to seek a mentor during this time. Having an individual that you can go to in times of struggle is essential for future success when trying to juggle all the challenges that come with a life of ministry.
Through all of these steps, you’ll want to do one very important thing — trust in God’s provision. During all of the challenges you’ll face and all of the hard work that will be required of you, it’s vital that your faith in God remains central in your personal life and your academic studies. With your trust in God, you will find encouragement to keep moving forward, knowing that that Godhas provided you with everything you’ll need, both physically and spiritually.
Whether you experience a call to ministry gradually or through a profound moment, it’s important that you seek and follow God’s will during this time of reflection. You’ll need to review the benefits and challenges of a life of ministry, seek the counsel of those you trust, and be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t handle. When you’re ready to put in the hard work and dedication, you’ll want to pursue a seminary education so you can provide the best possible ministry services.
In conclusion, discerning a call to ministry can be a challenging and deeply personal process. It requires careful self-reflection, prayer, and guidance sought from trusted mentors and spiritual leaders. While it may take time and effort to fully understand and embrace a call to ministry, those who do often find great fulfillment and purpose in serving others and sharing their faith. By staying open to God’s leading and actively pursuing discernment, anyone can begin to explore the possibility of a life dedicated to ministry and making a positive impact in the world.
If you’ve discerned a call from God and are ready to take the next step toward seminary, contact United’s Office of Admissions at [email protected], schedule a visit to United’s campus (even attend our virtual open house), or read more information on how to apply.