What to do when Seminary doesn’t fit your vocation

I am a timid pastor.

It is hard for me to write that, because I love Jesus and I love his church, and I have felt the call to ministry since I was a young teen.

I went to seminary straight from college, and became a pastor before I turned 26. I have enjoyed a marvelous relationship with three congregations (four, if I include the church I am currently with as an interim pastor), and served in several international mission settings.

But I am a timid pastor because of two things. First, I am an introvert, and the massive people contact of being a pastor has always taking its toll on me. I am drained by crowds and multiple pastoral contacts, even when they are upbeat and encouraging. Second, while I have great faith in God and the miracles God does to turn things around in this often cruel world, I am like a pastoral sponge when it comes to absorbing the pains and problems of others. I accumulate my friends and parishioner’s trials and dark spots over time, and they gnaw the insides out of me.

But I am thankful to be a pastor. I admire my ministry colleagues. I am thrilled with the promises and potential of my seminary students, and urge them on to ministry with passion and great stories that revel in God’s good work among God’s good people. My teaching ministry, in seminary and college is a terrific extension of my ministry in this phase of my career, but I am always a pastor.

I have often shared Moses’ sentiments when the leadership enthusiasm and empowering of God’s Spirit seemed to bubble over in ancient Israel, and Joshua came demanding that things get things under control: “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Number 29:29). So if you are thinking of going to seminary, please follow through! If the whisper of God’s vocation for your life is to be a pastor, get the best seminary training you can, and be the best credentialed and ordained shepherd of Christ’s flock that you can be.

But maybe seminary is not for you.

Maybe you are not up to the demands of graduate school. Maybe other life demands prevent you from stopping everything and shifting gears suddenly. Maybe you are enmeshed in another career that requires you to continue. Maybe you have been scheduled to spend the next two years on the international space station, or you are about to be elected president of the United States.

So be the best ministry supporter you can be.

Pray for your pastor. Send notes of encouragement to ministry leaders. Volunteer for a few ministry positions that fit your skill set and time opportunities.

Or become a volunteer leader of a ministry initiative that matches your passions and God’s call. Be a great elder or deacon. Lead the youth ministry. Teach an adult Sunday school class. Volunteer in the nursery and clean the toys and furniture every week. Mow the grounds, plant the flowers and shovel the snow. Cook the meals. Park the cars. Visit those who cannot get out. Witness to co-workers and lead them to Jesus.

Or stay in your current work while taking courses to become a credentialed lay leader, like a Commissioned Pastor. Use CLC to get connected and trained so that you will have an even more effective leadership role in your congregation or another where Jesus might call you.

Or gradually shift from your current job to a pastoral role in a congregation, while earning a seminary degree as a distance learner.

Or find a nearby small congregation without a pastor and negotiate to be a part-time bi-vocational leader.

Or plant a new congregation in your own home or a neighborhood restaurant as an evangelist leader.

I wish, I hope, I pray that God’s Spirit is at work in you and you cannot do anything other than be a leader in Jesus’ church. If seminary is not for you, at least make use of the awesome resources we offer here at CLC. You will never regret it.

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