Actually, let me make my purpose clear: you should consider life in the ministry.
Being an Anglican, my assumption is that you will be thoroughly vetted: various discernment committees, a whole string of approvals and mentoring from your Bishop and your Rector, seminary, psychological exams and ordination exams.
The fact is, one does not ordain oneself. The burden of sensing a call to the ministry does not rest entirely on you. Which is good news, because you know as well as I do that you might be wrong. When the Anglican machine is running on all cylinders, we get beautiful checks and supports to our inner spiritual life.
And it is so freeing.
So today I simply want to call you. Because we need excellent bishops, priests, and deacons, and I wonder if you are one of them.
Dare to be called
Some years ago, I wrestled with the question: Should I pursue ordination? Sure, we are all called to lay ministry in the church and in the world, but would God like me to be a pastor?
Like too many things, it tore through my mind as a tortuous loop, and I couldn’t figure it out.
One day, I came across an old book by an Episcopal priest called The Ministry. The author, Charles Lewis Slattery, addressed it to young men in the 1920s. I was blown away by Slattery’s frankness.
In 2011, I well understood spiritual phrases like “Am I hearing God’s voice?” and “How do I follow God’s will?” but I had never heard anyone talk so practically or persuasively about the Christian ministry. Here’s an example:
When a war comes, youth are aroused by the beckoning of a gallant and unselfish adventure. But in days of peace, the field of adventure is limited. One of the fields of adventure always open for the daringly unselfish is the Christian ministry.
I am sorry, but none of the guidebooks of today dared me to step up into the adventure of the ministry. When I thought of the pastorate, I thought of obedience to Jesus, I thought of whether I measured up. But Slattery reached into my passions and pulled out something I rarely connected with the call:
Youth, at its best, does not want money or ease; it craves adventure. And the ministry offers it in glittering abundance.
I do not know whether you are called to the ministry. And I won’t give you the criteria or guidelines—you can find that elsewhere on this site. But I want to extend the call of Jesus into your deepest self. Even if it’s clear that you ought never to become an ordained minister in the church, receive these words as beckoning to the work of the kingdom in your own life.
Not about a career
The minister is a captain in the kingdom of God. Such officers are not made when they are salaried by churches, and they have no need of a furnished office. No, you will find them as they lead men and women into battle.
Day by day, the people of God fight for their faith. They pray for their loved ones, and rebuke the Enemy. They are wounded and suffer mortal affliction.
Who will encourage? Who will look up when things look down? Who will strategize and organize? Who will call up new leaders? The priest will lead the way.
“Pastor” is not a job like other jobs, because it is not a job at its core. It’s a rallying of the troops and an administration of authority and above all an unmistakable living, breathing presence of the gospel for people who cannot see it. “Follow me as I follow Christ” is the life motto of every minister.
Personally, I am not paid by my church. I hope to build it to the point where that is possible. But can I be honest with you? In my years of fumbling with the question of full-time ministry, I feared the prospect of identifying my calling with a paid job. Would I find pressure to do something spiritual when I needed a paycheck?
In the meantime, while asking those questions, I got an accounting degree to feed my family, and I now work as a bi-vocational church planter in my first few years in ministry.
(To read more about bi-vocational ministry, click here.)
It is not easy. But as a result, I have an overwhelming sense that my ordination is a call to lead in the expansion of the kingdom and not a qualification for a job opening. It frees me, mentally, as I never could have imagined.
Consider postponing your ordination a couple of years while you learn coding, or accounting, or woodworking. You will not regret it.
Are you the one who is called?
Yes, God can call anyone. But that is not very helpful when deciding whether that might be you.
This is what struck me most about Charles Lewis Slattery’s book, The Ministry. He looks at nine personality “types useful for the ministry.” It is not exhaustive, but its specificity drove me to see more clearly whether I, in particular, might be called.
Let me share a few.
The One with a Sense of Humor
A pastor should have dignity. A pastor should not be a jokester. But there is also required a lightness that connects person to person, that breaks up awkwardness, and gently reveals self-consciousness.
There are good men in the ministry without a sense of humor, but they are not as good as they would have been had they possessed it … What must be said with all possible emphasis is that if one has this natural gift of humor, one has a gift from God for the effectiveness of ministry.
Many seminarians intend to spend hours exegeting their sermon texts and teaching their theology. This evaporates within a year or two. But some are truly of that scholarly type: not just loving books, but having a truly careful mind: precise, curious, discontent until just the right answer is found. The ministry is highly practical, but on the whole it risks sloppiness, and outsiders see it today as easily as in 1921:
Now let us say candidly that the man who tends to be a scholar is urgently needed in the Church of our day.
I quote this beautiful paragraph in whole:
In every town, in every school, in every college are the youth who stand out as gentlemen. They are the delight of all who know them. One relies on them in emergencies. If a willing hand is needed, they are always ready to put aside their own convenience and do the deed which needs to be done. The old are touched by their invariable respect and remembrance; the young look up to them and follow in whatever leadership they may possess. Even the dumb creatures like them. They are unselfish, considerate, tactful. In one word, they are kind; everything is rooted in their kindness. But kindness alone will not make a gentleman. A gentleman is a kind man who has both the intelligence and the skill to show forth his kindness.
I hesitate only for the sake of brevity to describe The Man with a Strong Body, The Man with Imagination, and The Practical Man.
You must be a pray-er. You must be an evangelist. These are requirements. But note also some of these singularly useful types, and more. Has God formed you in a particular way for the purposes of the priesthood?
Meet your highest calling
The ministry is invigorating. It asks you to step up like little else can. Slattery is characteristically bold about this:
A rarely attractive compulsion of the ministry is that by day it urges a man on to be his best.
One hundred years ago, the tallest mountain on earth had never been scaled. George Mallory made three harrowing attempts at Everest: preparing, learning, enduring, barely surviving. Before his last ascent–which he did not survive–The New York Times asked him why he would continue on such a horrible mission to 29,000 feet.
Mallory replied: “Because it’s there.”
Mallory did not just push through a difficulty. He strove to meet his highest possible calling, “because it’s there.”
Ordained ministry sets you apart in a particular way that will demand everything from you. Richard Hooker tells us: “They which have once received this power may not think to put it off and on like a cloak as the weather serveth … but let them know which put their hands to this plough, that once consecrated unto God they are made his peculiar inheritance forever.” (Eccles. Polity, Bk. 5, ch. lxxvii. 3)
Do not hear this simply as endurance. That separation is a separation unto a single-minded focus on the mountain that dwarfs all other mountains. The gospel must go out. It must work all the way into the congregation. The soul needs the Spirit.
It all depends on the Lord, and the Lord has made a part of it depend on you.
This much is sure: Whoever despises the office of the ministry will not think very highly of the Gospel.
-Martin Luther, The Sermon on the Mount (Luther’s Works 21:226)
That is not an easy thing to hear. It never will be. But, my oh my, if the kingdom of God is your all-encompassing concern, then like George Mallory you will take up the responsibility. The burden will be great but it will not be too great. And you will walk into an adventure that scarcely seemed possible.