Concordia Seminary Newsroom
Five ways to discern the call to pastoral ministry
by Rev. Tom Schlund
The question that always seems to be on the forefront of people’s minds when considering pastoral ministry and enrolling at Concordia Seminary is, “How do I know if this is what I’m supposed to be doing?,” or another version of that question is, “How do I know that God is calling me to this way of serving?” Hours, days, months and sometimes even years are spent wrestling with these questions as an internal struggle rages on between the desire to serve and feelings of inadequacy.
Wouldn’t it be nice if God sent you a letter in the mail, inviting you to become a pastor? Or maybe He could send an angel to proclaim that this was going to be your pathway of service. If He was going to be really direct, He could always speak to you with His voice from heaven. Any of these methods would be acceptable and would remove any doubt that this is what He wanted you to do.
Unfortunately, however, that’s not how God operates with us. I often wish He would, but that’s not what He’s chosen to do. The good news is, however, that our God is a physical God who has made our physical creation, and He works through physical means to interact with us. We know that He speaks to us through His Word contained in the Holy Scriptures. He washes us with water to forgive our sins and adopt us into His family. He regularly feeds us Christ’s true body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. He cares for us through the lives and love of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s all great, but what about guidance on serving in the pastoral ministry? Well, I think there are at least five ways that God gives us to discern this calling into ministry. These are not necessarily in a specific order, although I think the order is worth considering.
- Consult God’s people
When God calls us into His family He surrounds us with brothers and sisters in Christ of all ages and backgrounds. It is often these dear Christians or our own pastor who first recognize the gift for service in our lives. God uses this great cloud of witnesses to encourage us toward serving as a pastor. Listen to this encouragement and take it to heart. If you feel the inkling toward serving before anyone else has said something, talk to your pastor and other trusted Christians. Test out the feeling with them and see what they say.
- Read the Scriptures
Scripture is full of references to the beauty and value of being a messenger of God.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Is. 52:7 ESV).
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38 ESV).
Passages like these can provide great encouragement for one considering ministry. However, I believe, too, that the more you read Scripture the more you know just how amazing our God is and what His love means for the world. God has so many gifts to give the world that are so desperately needed. When God’s Word fills you, you can’t help but share it with others.
As Christians, our lives should have a daily rhythm of prayer. When considering ministry, it is helpful to include prayers of guidance from God to help you discern this path. He may answer those questions in a variety of ways. It may be the unexpected comment from someone at church. It might be the opening of doors on the path toward the Seminary that were previously closed. It might just be the sense of peace with this idea that you’ve never experienced before.
A great way to discern your calling toward ministry is to come and visit us here on campus. There’s just nothing that compares with getting to worship with us in chapel, experience a class, visit with our professors and students, and walk the grounds. Seeing and hearing for yourself can help you feel encouraged and confident in making the decision to come and study here to prepare for ministry.
Our professors are quick to remind our students that no one actually has a “call” to ministry until the day a congregation calls you to be its pastor. This is a helpful reminder that relieves the stress of feeling like you need to be 100% confident in this decision before you enroll. Coming to the Seminary is a big step and commitment, but it is also part of the discernment process. Through the learning that takes place inside and outside of the classroom, you’re formed and shaped for ministry, but you also get to figure out if pastoral ministry is right for you.
God loves you! He’s shown His love for you through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. He’s called you into His family and given you the gift of eternal life. You know this because you’ve had a faithful pastor or pastors who have spoken this life-giving message to you.
God continues to call faithful men into the role of pastor to share His Gospel from generation to generation. As you discern whether this is the path for you, I hope you use the five tools I shared here to help you in that process. Don’t forget, we’re here to talk with you, too.
Rev. Tom Schlund is an admissions officer at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.