As Central begins the fall semester, the seminary will receive new learners who have sensed God’s beckoning to ministry. I am always interested in how one sensed her or his calling. Who helped plant the seed? What experience of service prompted deeper reflection on the direction of one’s life? Was it a youth mission trip, a nurturing environment such as church camp, or a quiet conversation with a trusted leader? These narratives hold promise, and as we listen to one another, we sense the unfurling of God’s longing for each of us.
This past week I heard from a former doctoral student who is now a respected professor at a sister seminary. His sixteen year-old son had attended youth camp and returned with a decision to pursue ministry. This did not surprise his parents overly, for they have nurtured him in faith since his early days. Yet, removed from his familiar context, he heard God’s summons in a fresh way. I just hope he finds his way to Central!
God is still speaking in our day, and the church and seminary can work together in voicing the call. I am also interested in how ministry studies can help guide and refine vocation. Not all who come to seminary will become pastors, although that preparation remains focal in our mission as a theological school. We seek to train the mind, form the heart, and inspire the spirit so that each learner can participate in God’s great mission of redemption.
Christian vocation is a broader category than professional ministry. Of course, congregations remain in need of inspired leadership, and the global mission of the church requires thoughtful and culturally competent persons. God calls professors and administrators and denominational leaders; however, these are not the only persons who have a vocational call.
God calls lay leaders who will make their livelihood primarily through business, education, health care, and social services. These fields provide opportunity for persons to use their aptitudes, gifts, and personal commitment to fashion a more just and flourishing world. As Tullian Tchividjian writes: “When we reduce the notion of ‘calling’ to work inside the church, we fail to equip our people to apply their Christian faith to everything they do, every where they are.” Our varied vocations are, in the words of Martin Luther, “the masks of our Lord God, behind which to be hidden . . . working in all things.”
In the not too distant future, there will be a more comprehensive understanding of vocation as ministry and ministry as vocation. It is time that our theology catches up with our practice so that we might celebrate all the ways God calls people to serve. Such understanding grants our lives dignity and helps in crafting the future with God.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.