I graduated from college in 2000. At that time, I was deeply interested in knowing God better and, thus, getting to know the Bible much more deeply. In order to fulfill those interests, I hoped to go to seminary. I was not necessarily interested in pursuing ministry as a vocation (nor was I opposed to it), but I just wanted to know God better.
In lieu of seminary, I went to work for a couple of years of working in the trucking industry, after which I landed at Western Reformed Seminary in Tacoma, WA. Over the course of three years at that wonderful seminary, I grew immeasurably; it was a great time of spiritual growth for me. When I graduated, however, I was still was not sure that God was calling me into ministry. I ended up taking another job in the freight industry and worked for five more years.
During these five years I was not looking for full-time ministry. In fact, I was actively looking other directions. Even so, I was happily willing to help out in my local church in any way the elders wanted. So I ended up preaching from time to time and teaching a good deal. In 2010, one of the churches in our Presbytery lost its pastor. My session (that is, the elders of my local church) thought it would be good if I were to go to that church (in Scappoose, OR) and fill the pulpit for them while they sought a new pastor. I was delighted to do that work, but I was still trying to avoid full-time ministry.
It was in Scappoose that a funny thing happened. One Lord’s Day I was preaching God’s word (by that time I had been licensed by the Presbytery to preach for five or six years), I was standing in the holy desk, heralding and announcing the message of Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of his sheep and *BANG* it hit me. These people, the members of this church, were so delighted to hear the word of God. But they were like sheep without a shepherd… and for the first time, I wanted to be a shepherd; I wanted to be their shepherd. That was the beginning of my discernment of God’s call in my life to minister in his church.
The process from there included all sorts of things, but mostly WAITING PATIENTLY. Over numerous months, I met with the session in Scappoose to discuss being a candidate for the pastorate, I went through the candidating process, pressed through ordination exams by the Presbytery, and other things. The reason I mention all this is because my personal discernment of God’s call in my life was not enough. That’s right, my subjective experience was not sufficient for a call to ministry, it was only part of the process. Christ uses his church to call men to ministry. The church had to recognize in me the gifts and desire to minister. In short, the church had to call me before I was called. Discerning my desire to minister was one important step, but the church actually calling me and ordaining me to ministry was a much bigger and more important step.
In the end, God calls men to minister his word to his people (and to the world). He piques the interest of the man, but he also confirms that call through his church. Both of these are necessary. God graciously brought both to pass in my life. Praise him for that!
One more thing: I can look back and see God’s hand in my life preparing me for the call to ministry. Providence ordered my life and desires such that I had worked through college and the seminary well before I discerned God’s call to the ministry. In other words, by his grace, I was prepared when the call came. Getting to know God better is always its own reward. In my life, it turned out that getting to know him better was also preparation for an unseen and future vocation: the Gospel ministry.