I had to speak at a conference of professors of theology and found it difficult to bring my topic into focus. My wife did it for me. “What you really want to say,” she explained, “is how the seminary needs the church and the church needs the seminary.” Yes, I thought. If seminary and church would wholeheartedly recognize and accept the dependence each has for the other, both would improve.

The seminary needs the church for several reasons. The call to the ministry should, and most often does, come through the church. Some of the most effective pastors I know decided for the ministry in their youth in evangelical churches. They attended college and eventually seminary. But they first heard God calling them in church.

I grew up in an Evangelical Free Church in Pennsylvania, and there I heard a call to the ministry. Occasionally my church invited young people to preach what were called sermonettes. I had been wondering if God wanted me in the ministry, when I was asked to give one. I decided to put out a fleece, probably because someone had recently taught me the story of Gideon. I thought, Lord, if you want me to go into the ministry, have three women shake my hand before any man shakes my hand after the sermon. All the women sat on one side of the sanctuary, the men on the other. Ordinarily, more men than women greeted the speaker. But to make it as difficult as possible, I stood on the men’s side. Three women greeted me. That initial sign of my call to the ministry God has confirmed over the years.

Although I don’t recommend my youthful approach to determining God’s call, it shows that God’s call can come within the context of the church. It ought to come through a congregation, ...

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