January Mailbag - Called into Ministry? Navigating School vs. Church

2018 has arrived! 

Many New Year's resolutions have been made, many have already been broken, and that's all okay because we've come to the January mailbag. Here are the questions!

“If I feel called to be a pastor but my church won't/can't nurture my growth in that calling should I leave? Or is my calling wrong?"

Anonymous / California

This is a courageous question that is really contingent upon a number of factors. 

First, it depends on why you feel called to be a pastor.

Do you feel called to be a pastor simply out of personal desire If so, what thoughts and ideas are driving that desire? Is it because people in your life are telling you to? If so, who are they and what exactly are they saying?

A pastor appears to be called by 3 general means: 

(1) Internal desire - "I want to give my life to undertake this responsibility" (2) External affirmation - "Others who know me well are affirming my call to pastoral ministry" (3) Open doors - "God is opening doors for me serve in greater capacities.

It will be very helpful to see whether it's ringing on all cylinders or just 1 of the 3 are coming and going. 

Secondly, it also depends on why your church won't/can't nurture your calling.

Let me clarify since "won't" and "can't" are two different things in this context.

"Won't" means (1) Your church does not believe in the nurturing the pastor's call (2) Your church does not believe in your specific pastoral call. It will be extremely helpful to determine which is which.

"Can't" means that your church either lacks the resources (mentorship/resources) or the ministry bandwidth to be able to facilitate your situation.

Each scenario provides a different route, but each scenario will be clarified through you asking the tough questions so that you can discern which routes are realities. 

Practically speaking, if you discover through honest conversation that it may be more helpful to leave to nurture your calling, it may be helpful for you to talk to your pastor and see what he thinks. After all, a calling comes not in isolation but through the context of God's community. It would seem odd to completely bypass that community, for the sake of an individual "call." 

In the meantime, I'd encourage you to have honest and rigorous conversations with trustworthy people who will be truthful with you. In the end, it can only be a win regardless of the outcome. 

“What's the balance between studying at school and serving at church? I want to serve at church and get involved in the college ministry but school demands so much. Since my current occupation is a student, I find it difficult to find time to serve during the semester. I was wondering, isn't studying hard also a form of serving/glorifying Him?

Anonymous / Fullerton (CA)

Before we get to the meet of this question, I find this question very encouraging because you're trying to wrestle out a tension of two very good and important things. For a Christian, church is not a voluntary association but part and parcel to the Christian life. A Christian participates in the life of Christ's family members, with one key application being service. At the same time, a Christian must also be proactive with what one must do in one's particular season, which in your case, is your studies. A Christian must be well trained in one's field in order to be useful for society in both skill and witness. 

Yet, that's precisely why this question isn't easy to answer. The balance is well "Yes." The answer is "Yes" to both. There's a tension you have to walk on. I don't think the answer is "Yes to studies, and no service" although that may have been the answer you were hoping for. I think the answer is, "Yes to studies and to service."

Sure, there may be particular exam seasons where much more of your energies ought to be devoted to your studies over service, I'm not sure the answer is ever fully either/or, but both/and. 

Though the ultimate answer is found in tension, I think the practical solutions are found in honest assessment and conviction-fueled time managment. 

Here are a few questions for personal assessment: 

  • "What do I do in my free time?" (This reveals you have free time) 
  • "How am I studying when I say I'm studying?" (This reveals the quality of your said studying. True studying? Or socializing with friends with studying sprinkled in. Consider tracking your actual study hours to the amount of progress you make. Assess if you're being fruitful.)
  • "What venues and capacities have I served in thus far?" (This reveals the quality of your said service) 

If you're anything like me, just asking these simple questions reveal that I have much more free time than I actually think I do. It may also reveal that I'm not working as hard in  my own perceived diligence as thought while signaling how uninvolved with church activities I may actually be. 

Here's the truth, everyone has the same amount of time. The CEO of the fortune 500 company, the professor of neurosurgery, to the middle schooler daily playing 5 hours of video games, each are given 24 hours. It all depends how everyone chooses to slice it up. 

Which brings us to a deeper issue, in the end, the way we spend our time reveals our ultimate desires and fears. Money and time are the ultimate mirrors for us. 

So here's what I'd recommend, do some inventory of your personal fears, desires, and wishes. Write them down.

Then write down your honest convictions for how you want to live your life as a Christian. If your conviction is, "I want to be a disciple that studies well, but serves as well" then work backwards: Committment to serve in a ministry (after wise consideration of time committment) and reformat your day (from the time you wake up to when you fall asleep) to make it work.

And in the end, you may be surprised to discover you can do it! Will it require some troubleshooting along the way? Yes. Could you experience a little burn out along the way?  Sure. Could sinful fears and desires creep back up to try you sway you? Absolutely. But the point is that you can run back to and run with Jesus every step of the way. Cause isn't that the point? The point isn't to just do well in our studies. The point isn't even to just serve at church. The point is study and serve with and for Jesus.