When did you know you were called to ministry?
Maybe it was one of those lightning-bolt moments that changed the way you see yourself. Or maybe it came to you through a slow building of conviction you can no longer ignore. Perhaps it was through a life-changing conversation or a quiet nudge in a corner of your mind. Maybe it’s simply that you experience tremendous joy when you serve in the church and you want to find more where that came from. Whatever brought you to this point, you’re convinced you have a calling to serve God and the church in ministry.
So now what?
There is no shortage of resources out there, ready to prepare you for a life of vocational ministry. You can start reading books, apply to seminaries, take a homiletics class, or start looking for open jobs at churches. But before you take any of these steps, please consider starting at a far more important place—with being, not doing.
It’s easy to assume that perceiving a call to ministry automatically means you need to start looking for a job in a church—or acquiring the qualifications to do so. But in ministry, as in every area of life, God is far more concerned with who we are than with what we do. Responding to God’s calling nearly always means first being, then doing.
You can start by engaging in ministry where God has already placed you. Then start preparing for your calling by thinking much bigger than simply filling a specific job (paid or volunteer) in a church. Keep in mind that ministry is far more than a job or a role. You can be in ministry anywhere. Start by being the person you are called to be, and inviting God to transform you into a minister, wherever you are.
1. Honor Your True Self
Vocational ministry does not come with a personality transplant or a magical collection of superpowers to neutralize all your shortcomings. The Holy Spirit provides power and wisdom to people in ministry, as he does to all followers of Christ. But typically that means empowering the person God has already created you to be.
Own up to who you truly are (and are not), and avoid the trap of trying to be someone else. The more you understand yourself and the ways God tends to use you, the better prepared you will be to handle the pressures of ministry without developing a hero complex or falling into a pit of depletion.
2. Welcome Transformation
God is the one who transforms humans and can make you more like Christ; you do not have the power to redeem or sanctify yourself. However, you do have the opportunity to welcome and cooperate with this transformational work. Spiritual practices like prayer, silence, solitude, intentional community, and time spent in God’s Word will strengthen your resources and surround you with the armor of God. And no matter what type of ministry you engage in, you will need this.
3. Practice Ministry
Each of us has opportunities to engage in ministry every day—whether interacting with the clerk at the grocery store, loving coworkers, or spending time on social media. Start viewing your daily life as an internship, full of opportunities to practice being in ministry. Ask God for chances to do this in everyday life. You may learn a lot about the challenges and joys of ministry, your particular gifts, and even some of the things that might threaten to trip you up in vocational ministry.
I’ve never heard of a church that doesn’t have room for one more volunteer. Chances are, your church would be eager for your involvement. And if you’re already volunteering, try several different volunteer roles that are new for you. Tell your church leaders you’re considering vocational ministry and you want to have a better understanding of what kind of ministry might be right for you. Bonus: you’ll develop a bit of knowledge and empathy that will help you if you find yourself directing volunteers later.
5. Request Feedback
As you do ministry, either informally or through volunteer roles, ask a variety of people to let you know how you’re doing. Seek input on your special gifts, your shortcomings, and pitfalls to which you may be prone. Invite a mentor, coach, spiritual director, or counselor to walk alongside you and to be brutal in helping you develop the inner strength, skills, and conviction you will need to be an effective minister.
It’s possible that after taking these steps, you might decide a less formal ministry arrangement is right for you. Or you may still feel called specifically to work for a church. Either way, you will benefit from this early work as you prepare and seek a vocational role. The heart of any effective ministry is in who you are, not what you do.
No matter what stage you’re in through this process, remember, you were not put here on earth to work for any particular church—or to do a specific job. Your calling is much bigger: to be the person God has created you to be. Your “being” mission in life is active at all times. Before you seek a job in ministry (volunteer or paid), bring your life into alignment with this calling. Think big and offer your whole life in ministry.
Amy Simpson is a life and leadership coach, a popular speaker, and the award-winning author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @aresimpson.