The Best Advice Ever

What do you say to someone who is thinking about seminary?
How can you encourage someone who might be called to ordained ministry? 

Very often - for all the right reasons - those of us who love the church respond like vampires. Fresh blood! Quick, don't let it get away! 

And so we encourage. "You really should go to seminary." "Parish ministry is awesome." We talk up the best parts of parish ministry (and there are lots of them) and we talk up the gifts of the person we are trying to encourage (which also may be many). 

This is an important role to play. If you talk to anyone who is in ministry, chances are that countless people along the way encouraged them to consider seminary. With most clergy (although certainly not all), we experienced lots of affirmation of our gifts on the road to parish ministry. To be clear: For these encouragers and affirmers, I am deeply grateful. I would not be where I am without them. 

But while listening to a recent Freakonomics podcast, I was reminded of the greatest advice I received on my road to ordination. It came from my Grandfather, in the last months of his life. 

Grandpa Hansen was a pastor. 57 years of ordained ministry. He had served in the ULCA, the LCA, and the ELCA; he was a mission developer, a regularly called parish pastor, and an intentional interim. He was also a preacher's kid, growing up in parsonages as a child of the church. He was also the father of a pastor. Gramps knew the church. 

Toward the very end of his life, Gramps had some short-term memory loss. He remembered my parents, but as we gathered for Sunday dinner I had to be re-introduced to him. 

"This your grandson, David," said my Mom. "He's in seminary, preparing to be a pastor like you and Chris. Do you have any advice for him?"

Gramps looked up and thought for a moment, said, "Consider another line of work," then when back to eating his Sunday lunch. 

The best advice I ever got in my preparation for ministry: "Consider another line of work."

Here is the truth:
If you are called to ordination, nothing else will make you feel as fulfilled as ordained ministry.
And if you are not called to ordination, nothing else will make you feel as miserable as ordained ministry. 

Consider another line of work.

Is there another way to live out your calling? Are there aspects of parish ministry that appeal to you, but others that you hate to think about? Consider another line of work.

Are you pursuing ordination to make someone else happy - parents, pastor, or others? Are you considering ordination because you "should"? Consider another line of work.

Often, our first reaction when someone pushes back against a feeling of being called to ministry is to get defensive. But the truth is, the pushback is necessary. Sit with the idea of doing something else. Give it serious consideration. 

There are lots of important vocations (lived out to the glory of God, there are only important vocations). There are lots of ways to serve God. There are lots of ways to minister to God's people. Ordained parish ministry is just one. 

I'm not saying you aren't called to ordained ministry. Maybe you are - truth is, I hope you are. But give thought to where your mission in the world is. What would you do if not ordained ministry? What would you pursue if not this? And if you did those things, would you be just as fulfilled as you would in parish ministry?

Are you thinking about seminary? Listen to the wisdom of Rodney Hansen: Consider another line of work. Rule out all other possibilities. 

And if, having considered all other lines of work -- having ruled out all other options -- you discover that the call to ordained parish ministry still rings loudest in your heart, then jump in. 

What about you? What is the best vocational / career advice you have ever received? 

(Considering seminary? Here are some tools to begin the conversation. Talk with your pastor to explore your options.)