One of the biggest challenges facing anyone who is considering ordained ministry is recognizing God’s calling. What does it mean to be called? How does it “feel?” How does one determine and confirm a call? This section addresses your perceived call to ministry and outlines resources available to you for confirming it.
Discerning Your Calling
What does it “feel” like to be called into ordained ministry? This is a difficult question to answer, and no two callings will be identical. Within this section are some broad guidelines for you to use as you pursue God’s will for your ministerial (and personal) life. However, a vital part of discerning and confirming your call is working closely with mentors and seeking the advice of seasoned ministers. The church’s role in helping you recognize your call is paramount and must not be overlooked.
Also critical to your success in pursuing ministry, if you are married, is the counsel of your spouse. In this section, you will find various tools and resources that you can use to help determine whether or not you are called to ordained ministry and how to confirm that call.
Factors to Consider
Only you and God can know your true spiritual state. If the Lord is guiding you in the direction of ordained ministry, reviewing the information below may help you confirm your sense of calling. However, if you are choosing the path of ordained ministry simply because you’re not sure what else to do with a degree from Westminster, pray and think very carefully about proceeding with your quest. Talk with those in positions of authority over you, members of your church, and the faculty with whom you are close to gain their insights into your career aspirations. Look over Career Placement Handbook for Non-Ordained Ministry; you will find that there are many options other than ordained ministry that are available to you. Keep in mind that even if you are not called to ordained ministry, you are called to Christian service in some capacity. God will lead you to the place he has especially reserved for you.
The information in this section is designed for your personal reflection. Use it prayerfully to begin pursuing ordained ministry.
Spiritual Life Inventory (PT 111 Handbook, pgs. 14-15): A pastor is the spiritual leader of a community. As such, his own walk with the Lord should be solid. Make sure that you have taken inventory of your walk with the Lord before you begin any endeavor, let alone one that has the ramifications of ordained ministry.
Family Life Inventory: Is your family life good? Does your family, especially your spouse, if you are married, support your decision to enter the pastorate? Take stock of your family’s spiritual state and the level of support that they have for your desire to pursue ordained ministry. If you are unmarried, your family’s input is important but should not necessarily deter you from pursuing ordained ministry if you have received confirmation of your calling from your church and mentors.
Your Desires/Motives: Before pursuing ordination, it is vital for you to evaluate your desires and motives for such a pursuit. Do you want to become a minister because you have the right gifts? Do you enjoy being in charge of others and in control of most situations you find yourself in? Do you like it when others listen to you and take your advice above the advice of others? If these are your main reasons for becoming a minister, perhaps you should reconsider your motives. As Titus 1:7 points out, a minister cannot be arrogant, but must be “upright, holy, and disciplined.” Prayerfully consider whether you meet the qualifications laid out in Scripture for pastors (see 1 Tim 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9 in particular). The courses you take in the Practical Theology department at Westminster will also assist you in interpreting the passages that speak about pastoral qualifications and measuring yourself against those qualifications.
Prospective Planning Timeline (required in PT 111): Planning for your ordination ahead of time will enable you to know what will be asked of you. This will not only help you tailor your time at Westminster for maximum benefit to you, but it will also allow you to avoid obstacles and delays that could have been foreseen. A timeline will ensure that your spouse and family know what to expect and how best to support you.
PRAYER! Above all, keep your call in prayer. Commune with the Lord frequently so that you are sensitive to His will for your life. Have others pray for you along the way as well. Prayer should be both a starting point and constant companion in your search for ordained employment.
Confirmation of Call: If you believe that you are being called into the pastorate, it will be important for you to have confirmation of that call from the people closest to you.
Family: If your spouse does not support your decision to pursue ordained ministry, perhaps you should reconsider your calling. Talk openly with her to find out why she does not want you to become a pastor. Pray together and let the Lord speak to your hearts. Talk to a pastor or another mentor you respect for input regarding your particular familial situation. If members of your extended family offer resistance to the idea of you pursuing ordained ministry, consider their opinion but be sure to speak to other Christian mentors whose advice you value. While your family’s input is valuable and should be considered in this process, your goal is, ultimately, service to the church. For that reason, the counsel of spiritual leaders, particularly your pastor, will be especially important.
Mentors: Your pastor, elders, members of your presbytery, and other respected, mature Christians will have much insight to share with you, not only about the demands of being an ordained minister, but also about your preparedness for pursuing ministry. Consider the external call of the church to have priority in confirming (or questioning) your pursuit of ordained ministry.
Other Mentors: Speak with other spiritual mentors as well. Family members, professors, and friends can all give you insight into your calling and raise questions or concerns that you might have overlooked.
Mentored Ministry: Graduates from Westminster have consistently reported that the time they invested in the mentored ministry program was critical in evaluating their decision to pursue ordained ministry. Make sure to begin your mentored ministry requirement early in your Westminster career so that you can reap the maximum benefits of this program.
Spiritual Gifts: In addition to seeking out the advice of family and spiritual mentors, another way to discern your call to ordained ministry is to evaluate the spiritual gifts that the Lord has given to you. Ephesians 4:7 reminds us that the Lord has gifted every member of Christ’s body. If your gifts are suited for ministry, and that is God’s plan for you, then he will see you through. Scripture speaks of several gifts that are important for those seeking professional ministry. 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9 in particular are important passages for you to consider seriously and pray over regarding your call to the pastorate. If your skill set matches your call, this may be an indication of what the Lord has in store for you. However, if you lack several of the gifts required of pastors, speak with a close mentor to obtain guidance as to how you should proceed.
Discovery of Spiritual Gifts
You may consider using one of the many available tests as a starting point for determining areas in which you are gifted. One suggested site provides a free spiritual gift analysis. However, do not let quizzes and speculation be your only indication of what spiritual gifts you possess. Experience is far more effective in discerning which gifts the Lord has bestowed upon you. Actually doing ministry allows you and those around you to identify your proficiencies and deficiencies. For those humble and wise enough to accept criticism (Prov 12:1), experience in a ministry setting is invaluable in the pursuit of ordained ministry.
Realistic Expectations: Before deciding to pursue ordination, it is important to have a clear idea of what the process will entail. Starting early could mean the difference between becoming ordained shortly after graduation from Westminster and waiting many months after graduation to fulfill the necessary requirements for your church or denomination.
Mentored Ministry and Internships: The Mentored Ministry program at Westminster not only provides you with important contacts for finding ordained ministry positions, it is also vital for a full understanding of ordained ministry and what it entails. If you have not yet completed your Mentored Ministry requirement, find a place to serve that will allow you to practice the gifts and skills you’ll need to be an effective pastor.
If, during your time in your Mentored Ministry, you struggle to relate to people and to exercise compassion and care toward difficult people, and you find yourself loathing your time there, you should consider reevaluating your decision to pursue ordained ministry.
Books and Other Resources: For a more in-depth look at life as a pastor, and at whether you are being called to the pastorate, consult the following books and resources: