Discerning Your Call
Published by Aaron Einfeld
In my work, I meet a lot of people who are sorting through their interest and sense of call into ministry. Some are confident that ministry work is where God wants them but they might not know what this means in practical terms. Others experience uncertainty and anxiety. They feel a divine prompting, but wonder, Why would God call me? Am I really called to ministry and seminary? How do I know for sure? Some feel like they are the least likely person to be attending seminary or serving in ministry.
Vocation is a richly loaded term in Christian circles. Put simply, vocation is understood to be literally a calling (or invitation) from God to join in His mission of restoration and making all things new. In this, God points us to specific roles in our families, churches, communities, and workplaces that are all ministry vocations; callings that honor God’s heart for the world.
Understandably, we feel pressure to “get it right” when deciding which vocations to pursue. Human instinct can be to turn to one’s own intellectual or technical prowess. In this thinking, wise decisions come from “smart” people who know a lot. However, in “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life,” Tim Keller observes that biblical wisdom, as described in Proverbs, is closely tied to one’s heart and character—more than technical competence or strategic ability and smarts. Keller concludes from his study of Proverbs that poor decisions tend to have their roots in disordered desires for money, status, or from self-absorption and a need for control and security. So the first step in wise discernment of God’s calling for you should be – through prayer and the help of the scriptures – to search your inner motivations and character. Are you making a vocational decision out of faith or fear, humility or pride, gentleness or power? Be honest with yourself before the face of God about the underlying forces that shape your life choices. Remember, following a call to ministry is not necessarily a more noble or humble path than others. God calls people into pastoral ministry, and He also calls people to steward and fill the earth by creating art, growing food, and starting businesses.
Once you’ve gotten in touch with your inner life, you are more ready to engage in shared discernment and to consult with trusted advisors and mentors in your life. Share how you feel God prompting you and be ready to humbly listen to the wisdom of others. How do they see your gifts and abilities? Do they see promise in you for pastoral ministry? Be ready to also consult with the broader Christian community to gather insight about how to respond to God’s calling for you. In many traditions, it is the Church or denomination that ultimately calls its leaders into formal positions of leadership. This broader Christian community will often include seminaries.
Though vocational discernment begins with a prayerful gut check, it naturally leads to practical questions and decisions related to degree programs and delivery formats, financial aid, and internship opportunities. You can rely on the help of others as you ask, Is God leading me to a door that requires a credential to enter through? What learning and spiritual formation is necessary for me to follow Jesus and do the work I think I hear Him asking me to do? The best way to engage these questions is to spend a day at seminary; visiting class, meeting students, and talking to someone like me in the Admissions Office!
The Christian life is one of lifelong learning and discipleship, so it is not surprising that God would nudge us to a place like seminary where we can experience deep learning and spiritual formation. In seminary, classroom instruction, peer to peer learning, structured mentoring, and practical ministry internships all work together to shape Christian leaders in profound ways. Even if you discern that seminary is not where God is leading you, the question of lifelong learning and spiritual formation for your vocation remains. How do you plan to continue your learning and growth?
If you get caught up trying to plan out all the next steps, or if you are not anchored in an active prayer life and ongoing self-examination, it is easy to get overwhelmed, stuck, or simply to be wrong. When sensing a call or searching for a vocation, the important thing to do is to actively investigate and to not be afraid. Repeatedly, scripture warns against worry and fear. Some good questions to ask are: What is God calling me to do next? Who is God calling me to be? Will seminary help me in this pursuit?
By Aaron Einfeld
Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management
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