The Apostle Paul explains his own calling this way: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (Ephesians 3:6-7, emphasis added).
Here’s the hard truth:
Oftentimes, pastoral ministry doesn’t feel like a calling. In fact, in the throes of seminary and ministry, it can often feel like a mistake.
One of the reasons the pursuit of pastoral ministry can feel this way is that doors get slammed in your face for years. If this happens long enough, any rational human being will begin to question whether God has really called them to pastoral ministry.
The reality is much simpler: You may simply need to tweak your approach.
Here are four tweaks aspiring Christian workers can make in pursuit of pastoral ministry that could be the difference between a never-ending job search and a divinely-appointed position.
You Need More Training
Many Bible college graduates grow discouraged when they are unable to get pastoral ministry positions because they are competing against an applicant pool saturated with M.Div. graduates.
After four years of theological study, this can be discouraging.
But don’t lose heart! You may simply need to continue your education. You don’t necessarily need to get an M.Div. But you may need to enter a 2-year pastoral residency in a trustworthy and healthy church planting network while you work a part-time job on the side. Each of these avenues of training will give you the opportunity to deepen your knowledge of the logistics of pastoral ministry—and more importantly, your knowledge of God and his Word.
The Apostle Paul encourages Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Let those words ring in your heart. “Do your best.” Don’t assume that any ministry position is owed to you. Let God take you down a course of discipleship and training in the context of a seminary, local church, or church planting network to better equip you for the work to which you are called.
You Need a Bigger Network
It’s very possible that you don’t know the right people to find a pastoral job. The truth of job searching—whether in the church or in business—is that people like to hire people they know.
This was true even for the great evangelist Apollos, who had all the gifting he needed, but didn’t know the right people—and because he didn’t know the right people, he didn’t know what he didn’t know about finding a ministry post:
“Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:24-26).
When Apollos met Priscilla and Aquila, he was able to connect with the entire church network in Ephesus. When this happened, he was able to connect with the Apostle Paul, who saw that the Lord had clearly called him to ministry, and discipled him as he grew into a position of leadership in the church.
Don’t despise the long journey towards ministry on which God may take through relationships. It is for the good of your own ministry and the good of the church that the process of receiving a formal call to ministry only comes as fast as friendships can grow.
You Need to Start Praying
Take a moment to be honest with yourself: How much have you prayed about whether you are really called to ministry?
It’s easy for youth who are gifted in speaking, making friendships, and networking to be set on a ministry track by their local churches. But sometimes, this impulse is misguided. It’s wise to take seriously the notion that God may not be calling you to ministry.
Begin by praying for yourself: “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).
Then, ask others to pray for you, as Paul prays for the Ephesians: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (Ephesians 1:18).
Your Vision is Too Small
This last piece of advice, most people pursuing pastoral positions will never consider.
What if God is calling you to be a pastor to people outside of the United States?
The Apostle Paul was fervently global: “This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15:22-24).
Why not consider that your success in finding a ministry position may be hampered by the narrowness of your geographical filter? Consider seriously that God may be truly calling you to pastoral ministry, but you have yet to open your heart to the possibility of serving overseas.
Pray over each of these possibilities. Ask God to give you the humility to seriously consider each option. Would it be great if your nearest big-city mega pastor hired you as his number two? Would it be great if you planted a church and it grew into a great force for Christ in your area with a healthy and robust legacy? Of course, those things would be great. But these are very narrow and particular visions of success that you are willing to accept.
Perhaps God is calling you to something different. He is known for that kind of thing. Pray that he would open your mind and heart to the possibility that your vision might be slightly askew of God’s call. Pray for the humility to recognize that God may have genuinely called you, yet he has called you to something entirely different than you have always conceived—perhaps something global.
ABWE exists to fulfill the Great Commission by multiplying leaders, churches, and missions movements among every people.