Have you ever wondered if you may be called to serve as a full time professional pastor? If so, how would you know? And how do you distinguish the call to full time professional ministry from other equally important callings?
God calls everyone to ministry. When you become a believer, you are called into ministry. Peter writes “10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10).
Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, gives an extensive listing of the spiritual gifts. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
All are called to serve in ministry, yet each calling is unique. Some of the spiritual gifts are given to individuals who serve the servants. These are the ‘equippers’ in the body of Christ. To the church in Ephesus Paul writes “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11).
In the Adventist denomination volunteers many times can fulfill the role of ‘equipper’. However, because of the depth of knowledge and experience needed for this role, many conferences find that a full time professional pastor can excel in this role. This unique role is not so much to be doing the tasks of the church, but rather equipping and enabling others to discover and live out their gifted roles in ministry. This is not a superior role but rather a supporting role, facilitating the entire discipleship process within the congregation.
For many years the job openings for full time pastoral ministry have been less than the number of students interested in the positions. Yet that may all be changing soon. The Adventist Church in North America is about to experience an increased need of pastors because 50% of the current pastors will be eligible for retirement in the next few years. Schools will need to double the number of graduates and conferences will need to double the number of hires in order to mitigate the anticipated loss.
Could that be a role that you are called to take on? If so, how would you know? Here are four suggested indicators that could validate your calling to full time professional ministry:
a. Inner sense of calling from God
b. Confirmation from others
c. Professional Education
d. Offer of employment from a conference
The journey to full time professional ministry takes at least ten years. This includes four years for an undergraduate degree in pastoral studies, three years for the Master of Divinity degree, and about four years of internship leading up to commissioning/ordination. This is a major time commitment. You may wish to have a strong validation of your calling as you journey down that path. Let me break that out into a suggested sequence of steps to ministry. Take the time to work through each step before moving on to the next one. If you move too quickly down the pathway without validation, you might find yourself someday with a Master of Divinity diploma hanging on your wall and a realization that your calling may to something other than full time pastoral ministry. Here are some suggested sequential steps for validation:
1) Pray for wisdom from God to lead and give you direction. A calling to serve eventually as a full time professional pastor must be generated in heaven. As you pray, study, meditate, and engage in your spiritual disciplines, ask God if He has wired you for this unique role. Listen to His voice, and watch for His leading in your life.
2) Study the role of the pastor. It is difficult to know if you are called to professional ministry without understanding what exactly a pastor does on a day by day basis. One of the best ways to do this is to seek out a pastor and if you could shadow him or her for an extensive period of time. In your shadowing, be sure to get a complete picture by spending time in all aspects of ministry. Then reflect on the day to day work of the pastor. Is this something that gets your juices flowing? Or does your mind start to wander as you shadow the pastor.
3) Volunteer in your local church. Find an area of ministry where your passion and spiritual gifts align with the needs of the community and let God work through You. Look especially for those opportunities to equip others, since this is the core gift of the pastor.
4) Help lead out in a small group. In fact, if you find success in leading a small group it may be a predictor of your potential as a full time pastor. The gifts needed for a small group leader are essentially the same gifts needed to pastor.
5) Seek out the advice of several godly individuals who know you well. Ask them to take the time to fill out a survey that helps compare your profile to that of pastors who excel. Ask them straight up ‘can you visualize me serving as a full time pastor some day?’ Listen carefully for the things that they see as natural for you as well as parts of the role of the pastor that they may see as difficult for you.
6) Take a personality inventory such as the PXT to discover if your personality is within the norms of those who are most likely to excel in ministry. If you are far outside the norm it may be that you are wired for a different calling.
7) Pursue professional education starting with an undergraduate degree in Theology.
8) Continually use your spiritual gifts in a congregation as you are enrolled in formal education. Look for ways to integrate your coursework with practical experience in a congregation.
9) Make your availability known to conference leadership. You will most likely be hired by a conference leader who already knows you. Don’t wait until graduation to get to know conference leadership. Let them know where you are in your journey and what pastoral experiences you are currently engaged in.
I’ve been in full time professional ministry since 1978. Although the journey has meandered a lot of different directions I would not trade my ministry experience for any other career. I continue to be amazed as I get a front row seat watching God work his miracles in the lives of his people. As I write this final paragraph be assured that I am praying for you, that God will reveal His calling to you, whether it be a calling to serve as a volunteer in ministry or a full time professional pastor.