t happened more than once while I was pastoring. Someone would meet with me and declare, “I think God is calling me into the ministry.” Of course, they didn’t always state it exactly that way, but that was the clear message. They had heard the voice of God calling, and now they were at a crossroads that would change their lives forever. Their ministry journey had started. In the early days of ministry, I don’t think I fully grasped what a sacred moment that was for me as their pastor and mentor. I was being invited to endorse and assist them on their journey and to help them interpret exactly what God was stirring in their hearts. What kind of call were they experiencing? Were they being called to a deeper commitment as a faithful lay person, or was God calling them to be “set apart” and pursue ordination in the Church? In some cases, they were quite clear about what they had heard and how they needed to respond. However, many times this fresh stirring would need to be processed and interpreted. The interpretation and response that I helped them formulate would impact their lives forever. As a pastor, I have also served for many years on district credentials boards, where I have had the privilege of interacting with hundreds of men and women who were working to fulfill their requirements for ordination. The highlight of these meetings is hearing the candidates' testimonies as they retell the story of their calling and to witness the way God is shaping their lives toward fulfilling His call. There were those for whom I have felt very sad. They were the men and women struggling to meet the basic Manual requirement that each candidate “possesses gifts and graces for public ministry, and has a thirst for knowledge, especially for the Word of God, and has the capacity to communicate sound doctrine” (section 502).
These district boards stand with them at the same crossroads they faced when they first shared their journey with their pastor. However, the credentials board bears the burden of either redirecting their calling or allowing them to pursue ordination. In those moments of redirection, I have often wondered if their pastor might have been able to give closer guidance and courageous mentorship during their initial meeting times.
As I reflect on my ministry and the many opportunities I have had to stand at the crossroads of someone’s calling, I realize what a privilege it was to be invited to participate in their journey as a mentor.
Pastor, it is very likely that your influence has stirred up in them the desire to be more deeply committed to Christ and His Church, and now it is your privilege to direct them in ways that will assist them to mature as a disciple of Jesus and eventually an ordained minister in the church. Below are a few considerations for pastors who are presented with this sacred opportunity to stand at the crossroads of the calling to ministry with men and women entrusted to your care. In the words of the Manual , our role as pastors includes a mandate to: “Nurture the call people feel toward Christian ministry and mentor such persons, guiding them toward appropriate preparation for ministry” (section 515.10).
1. Go slow, and help them to know.
It is normal for a high level of spiritual enthusiasm to accompany a fresh encounter with the living God. As we celebrate this moment with those expressing a call to ministry, we begin by helping them define the parameters of the call. The call of God comes to each of us in unique ways, but God always works within clarity. Before we rush to grant a local license, it is wise to spend time celebrating and discerning the clarity of the call. Grandparents and parents have great influence in our lives, but they do not call us into ministry. Pastors and Sunday school teachers have great influence in our lives, but they do no call us into ministry.
I remember struggling to discern the call of God in my own life. One evening while I was speaking with my mother about my struggle, she told me that she had known for nine months that God was calling me, but she had refused to mention it to me because she had confidence that I would eventually hear it clearly from God.
Mentor in such a way that the one who has been stirred has clarity and confidence that God is the one who has called. The Apostle Paul expressed his calling clearly in Romans 1:1, when he referred to himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
2. Invest in them, and help them grow.
Many times, when the call of God comes, individuals may not have the spiritual or emotional maturity for ministry and may not demonstrate the gifts and graces of the Spirit right away. Areas of growth and healing that God desires can be greatly facilitated through intentional coaching and mentoring by a pastor. After a season of mentoring and coaching, it may become obvious that some do not have the capacity or willingness to allow their lives to be shaped in a way that meets the standard for ordination.
Legal or relational issues in the candidate’s past should be addressed early in the mentoring process. Although these circumstances in their lives before Christ do not nullify their sense of calling or their usefulness in the church, some may become reasons for that calling to be redirected away from ordination and toward lay ministry in the local church. Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to assist in that discernment process.
3. Know when to say, “Yes, it’s time to go.”
As a pastor, when someone shares his or her call with you, he or she is seldom aware of the journey that lies before them. Full disclosure of this process can be overwhelming and daunting. Sometimes, it is best to spend a season celebrating their calling, allowing them to testify to it before the congregation, and begin the process of engaging in some ministry activities such as preaching, teaching, and pastoral care.
This season will give you time to examine and evaluate their progress and their sincerity and commitment to the radical changes that lie before them as they begin their educational and practical preparation for ministry. Once they have received their local license, their willingness to be under authority through coaching and correcting will be an indicator as to how they will do in the process. The decision to recommend for a district license should only be done once the pastor and the local church board feel confident that the candidate has clearly expressed a call to the ministry and adequately demonstrated his or her willingness to come under the authority of the church in all matters pertaining to future preparation.
4. Have the grace and courage to say, “No, not this way.”
With God’s help and grace, it is sometimes necessary to speak to someone at the crossroads and courageously say to them, “No.”
This part of our sacred responsibility should only be done after careful examination of our own heart and life, as well as an honest examination of the candidate’s qualifications for ordained ministry. However, the “no” should only be spoken as a, “No, not this way” and not as a, “No, you can’t do ministry,” or “No, you’re not good enough.” It will take wisdom and courage to know how to frame this conversation, but it is essential. It is reckless for a pastor to recommend a candidate to the district for a license when the pastor has not done due diligence in preparing and examining the candidate.
God’s call to ordained ministry is an amazing and life-changing event that should be celebrated and treated with great awe. As pastors, we are called to invest our lives in helping those who are called to clarify the call and to embrace the direction that call is taking them. We are called to stand at the crossroads with them.