Considering full-time ministry? Considering seminary? I don’t know of any question that I am asked more often than this: “I think I am being called into ministry but how do I know?” I don’t claim to be an expert on this issue, but I can offer some words of advice. Here are some questions that I think you should ask yourself (in order of importance):
1. Do you have an unrelenting passion? This involves a burning desire in your heart to impact the lives of others. It is a giddy excitement that others may gawk at. (Have you seen this gawk?) It is the type of passion that causes you to lose all other options and directions due to a mind that wanders to the feet of the Lord. I loosely paraphrase Charles Spurgeon: “If there is anything else that you can do, anything, do it. But if ministry is the only option that will satisfy you then consider it.
One of the things about being in ministry is that were something to happen, you are not normally qualified for anything else. I have often been brought to the place where I had to start considering other “career” moves and I get very depressed. Not only can I not find a passion for anything else, I am not qualified for anything else. I just don’t know what else I would or could do. I am committed to ministry. There is an internal compass that won’t point in any other direction.
2. Do you have personal integrity? Integrity, not perfection. None of us are really “qualified” in an absolute sense. You will have continual feelings of inadequacy all the time. This is normal. But the life of a minister of the Lord should be above reproach. This means that you should not have any areas of your life that, if discovered, would bring shame upon the Gospel. People are looking to discredit God. They will use you to do so. In a way, you are the punching bag for God.
This is always hard for me as I often think, “If people knew this or that about me, wouldn’t that shame Christ?” Unfortunately my answer is sometimes “yes,” but I don’t know if it has crossed “that” line. For this reason, I often preemptively strike at people’s criticism. I sometimes use this blog to do so! However, I do recognize that there is a line that we can cross. I sometimes don’t know where it is, but it is somewhere between perfection and debauchery.
Read the Pastoral epistles over and over. Are you given to any addiction, anger, attitudes that lack grace and gentleness? Is your faith in the Lord true? Are there any secret areas about which you are in denial?
3. Have other people been encouraging you to do so? I believe that if God is leading you to go into ministry and to go to seminary (which, in my book, should not be separated), then He will normally encourage you through other people. Whether it be teaching, preaching, or counseling, people must have seen a gift in you and said “Hey, have you ever thought about going to seminary or getting into the ministry?” Let other people help establish the reality of your qualifications. It is necessary to have many counselors.
I remember the first time someone suggested this to me. I was preparing a speech for a class in college. I practiced on some friends. Afterwards, one of them said, “You should think about going into ministry.” That said a lot to me as this was one of my old drinking buddies. She did not normally encourage in such a direction. I sought more and more opportunities to teach about the Bible. I started a Bible study at my work, began to teach Sunday School, led the Baptist Student Union Bible study at school, and on every date I went on, I would ask if I could teach them the Bible. (Kristie and I went through Acts, Romans, John, Genesis, and Revelation while dating. She had some tolerance to make it through that). Though all of this, I had many people encourage me to get into ministry.
Seek out opportunities. This implies much contact with people in the church. If you are not involved in the church right now, don’t even bother … there are other issues with which you need to deal. And (standing on soapbox) don’t say to yourself, “I don’t go to church because all churches are too corrupt,” or “I can’t find a church that I can have fellowship in, that is why I am going into ministry.” We don’t need any more of this type of vigilante “I’m-going-to-fix-everything” attitudes in the church. There are plenty of those already, thanks.
4. Are doors being opened through your experience? This has to do with financial doors and circumstances that make the path clearer. How are you going to pay? Where are you going to live? Do you know of a seminary that will take you? Have you got the right credentials? Also, I always encourage people to do it right if they are going to do it. Get trained. This means going to a good seminary that may cost more. This also involves being on campus full-time with virtual education being minimal to none. Don’t spread it out over ten years. Think of seminary like boot-camp. Its primary value is in the intensity and discipline that you put into your training. Therefore, it must be allowed to be intense. Just imagine if the Army spread out boot camp over a 6 year period where you just come in on weekends. That is not boot camp. What if they allowed for online boot camp? I would not feel safe in our country, would you? It’s the same thing with seminary. I have seen so many people take so long to get through seminary that the benefits were not really there in the end and, frankly, I believe they wasted a lot of time. Count the cost. Don’t get into this half-way. If half-way is your only option, I would say that you should consider that as a sign that it is not where God is leading you.
5. Is your spouse in support of your ministry direction? If the first three are accounted for yet your spouse is not in support of you being in ministry, you often should take this as a sign that God may not be leading you in this direction. Ministry, especially for those in the mission field or those pastoring a church, needs the support of the whole family. I am not saying that your spouse has to be involved at every turn, but they should have a supportive attitude in the direction that you are moving. In your spouse is completely against it, as a rule of thumb, don’t go. God will call you both together.
Kristie was in full support of me being in ministry, but not in support of certain directions that I could have taken in ministry. I allowed (and still allow) her calling to shape my calling. If your spouse’s calling is not your calling, then wait and pray. Let the Lord shape your direction. Be patient.
Also, don’t ever think that leaving your spouse is the “greater-good.” In other words, the Lord will not present you with a dilemma in which you are called to leave your spouse in order to fulfill a ministry calling. Your spouse is your first calling. While you are not in control over their spirituality or commitment to the Lord, you are in control of yours. If you were to leave you spouse for ministry, you are only undermining the sovereignty of God and the very foundation of your ministry. Doing so, in my opinion, disqualifies you (for a time) for that which you seek.
P.S. Please don’t attempt to debate the legitimacy of being “called” or what that means. As well, please save the “all-people-are-in-ministry” responses. I understand that we are all called to be ministers, but there are some who enter into a “professional” ministry or “full-time” ministry where they are not only ministers, but they make a living in this “field.” Oh, and a thousand other qualifications that pertain to ancillary debates that you may be tempted to get in to!