Sunday, April 05, 2009

When the search lingers... part 1

A seminary graduate recently wrote to me, asking for advice. He graduated from seminary over two years ago, but has not yet found placement into a pastoral call. He has made it to the "short list" a few times, and actually beyond that once or twice. He feels the pressure of the fact that every semester more seminary-trained men enter the ministry field, and he knows that the economic pressures on churches may be causing some to stave off of hiring when they otherwise might. He wonders what advice I might have for him.

I imagine that this man is not alone; there are many guys who graduate without a call, and many go on to linger in their candidacy process for a while-- months, even years pass before they reach a point of resolution. For some, the eventual resolution is placement; for others, it is a decision to abandon the search for pastoral placement (for good or for now) and move on to other things. Regardless, this young man is in a difficult position.

What advice would I have for him? First let me say that I am certain that his level of discouragement is quite high. I know that it must be so difficult to persevere! I know men who have given up; some of them, I am convinced, should not have given up-- I am as sure as I could be that God had called them into ministry. And I know others who persevered, some for longer than you have, and they are now well-placed and thriving in the ministry God had been preparing for them.

Thus, I'll offer two responses: first, some thoughts about how to continue to discern a calling to pastoral ministry; second (in another post), a few things to "do" to continue and press on.

I know that many seminarians sense an inward call to ministry; I trust that, and consider that to be a foundational aspect of a call to ministry-- but it is one aspect of a few. I would say, with confidence, that there are two other aspects.

First, is there a "scriptural" call to ministry? We must ask ourselves, what does the Bible teach about those who are called to ministry? One way to proceed with considering whether you should continue to pursue a pastoral call might be to dig deeply into a study of the Word. Do a survey of those who served as leaders throughout the Scriptures, and consider whether there are normative factors in their calling. Dig into Paul's teachings on gifts, and look at what gifts he teaches are crucial for leadership and servanthood in the pastoral office. Do some serious exegetical work in the pastoral epistles and construct a biblical portrait of the Elder/Overseer. Study the writings of Peter, James, and John on those who lead the church.

There is more study to do here than most have time to complete between now and when the Lord places them! I would strongly suggest spending devotional time in this sort of study-- so that daily, in their time in the Word, a candidate is more deeply affirmed from Scripture of their call to ministry. (Incidentally, if God is NOT calling them into ministry, such a study should reveal that to their hearts, as well.)

Also, is there an external call to ministry? At a point where the search for placement has gone well-beyond what we would think of as a "normal" length of time, the fact that someone hasn't yet received a ministerial call might suggest that there is not an external call. A candidate shouldn't let this be the final decision-factor, however. Instead, they should ask, "Who first encouraged me to attend seminary, and why? How was I affirmed in my call to ministry by seminary professors and classmates? What do those who I served-- and those whom I served under-- during field education and/or internships have to say about affirming my call to ministry? Am I involved in leadership in the church now-- and if so, what do those whom I serve under say about a call into ministry?"

Between now and when they first were led to begin seminary study, there should be many people-- dozens? more than that?-- who have first-hand experience with their ministry, and who can speak honestly and informedly to whether they see God calling them into ministry. The candidate must find them, and ask them. He must invite them to be frank, even blunt with him. If they have any love for the church and for the candidate, they will tell him whether they see God calling him to ministry.


blake elizabeth said...

Hi Ed,

Sorry I haven't responded before now. Thanks for saying hello on my blog. Hope life in TN is going well! I have a little over a month of college left... kind of surreal. Wish me luck on the job hunt? :)


Ed Eubanks said...

Blake, it's so good to hear from you. I've kept up with the fact that you're about to graduate; congratulations! I know you're considering grad school, which would be great for you; I have total confidence that you'll land in a great opportunity. I'll be praying for your decisions.

In case I never really made it perfectly clear: I'm proud to have been your teacher, and proud of who you have become. God has blessed me in that way, among others.