I’ve had that conversation (see title above) with a lot of people in the last seven years since my wife and I chose ministry as our full-time (and I do mean full-time) profession. I thought I had good reasons when I started training for ministry, but upon closer reflection I could easily find more reasons AGAINST going into full-time ministry than I could FOR going into full-time ministry. These reasons ran the gamut of personal failures (can’t only perfect people be in ministry?) to occupational hazards (aren’t ministers always loved and treated properly by the churches the serve?).
While I don’t intend to discuss this issue at length here (perhaps material for a future blog series?), I was reminded of my own journey into ministry by John Ortberg’s article in Leadership Journal entitled “God’s Call Waiting: What do you do when “the call” to ministry isn’t crystal clear?” Two things he covers stands out in detail: one amusing and one challenging a presupposition I’d always held.
First the amusing comment. One thing that ministers share is that people often ask why they’re in ministry. Sometimes they will ask about a “call” to ministry. Ortberg says, “In our tradition, if you became a pastor, you had to have a “call”: a mystical, vivid (but non-charismatic) experience in which you have an inner sense/compulsion/Voice (but never quite audible) that tells you to become a preacher.” Although I come from a non-Pastor tradition, the humor in the balance between the spiritual and the rational is obvious.
The second comment that stood out forced me to rethink a presupposition I’ve long held. Ortberg writes:
“Only become a preacher if you cannot do anything else,” the old-timers would say knowingly. And many people followed that advice, which may be why the competency bar for preachers got set pretty low.”
Wow! I remember hearing these words my first week in ministry school and feeling very, very guilty. I was a 4.0 GPA pre-med student that had just transferred over from the science department. Of course I could do something else. In fact, I had been doing something else very successfully for several years before going to college. These types of comments, strangely, feed the frenzy of the first type of comment. If you can do something else then you need to “interpret” some fancy story about being “called” to justify being in ministry.
I’ve worked with about nine other ministers, and most of them could be somewhere else doing something other than ministry. The upper echelon of those I’ve worked with could probably doing something else making much, much more money than they do in ministry. Interestingly, the two that seem to really not fit anywhere else are the two that I would be least likely to recommend for a ministry position in the future. In a sense, this is the low bar that Ortberg referred to.
Many of you have encountered the concept of a “call” to ministry or to the idea that you shouldn’t be in ministry if you can do anything else. What are your thoughts?