In team sports if you have the skill and ability, you can be a starter on the team. From the very first tick of the clock the coach puts you in the game. There is a great degree of satisfaction in being a starter. This parallels the experience of a seminarian who, upon graduation, is a starter. In other words, soon after graduation the former student has an internship or pastorate lined up. This was my own experience. I never had to put out a resume or search for a call. Before I finished my doctoral work, a session approached me and asked whether I was interested in pastoring a mission work they were planting. Before I graduated, I took my ordination exams and was installed as a church planter. I know of a number of seminarians who have taken similar paths. In one case, a student graduated on Saturday and I preached his ordination and installation service on Sunday. Such a turn of events can be very exciting, but is it merely the luck of the draw and circumstance that enables someone to transition smoothly and quickly from seminary to a call? Or is there something more involved?
In some cases, a student can have a quick transition because of circumstance. He happens to be in the right place at the right time and steps into the right situation. In most cases, however, there is a degree of work and preparation to ensure that you are a starter. First, the most important step is to ensure that you are a member of a local church body, preferably in the denomination you hope to serve. A local body of elders needs to get to know you and evaluate your gifts. A local church body also affords you the opportunity to exercise your gifts—teach Sunday School to children, set up chairs for worship, assist with collecting the offering—in short, helping your church with everything and anything.
Second, you need to be communicative—you need to establish good relationships with your pastor and elders so they know of your desires to serve as a minister. All too often I see students who make little to no effort to make strong relationships with their pastor and elders. When it comes time for finding a call, they are a virtually unknown quantity. The pastor and elders hardly know you and therefore can’t say much about your abilities to serve. This also means that if other pastors or elders ask if they know of someone who might be qualified to serve in a potential call, they might not have much to say.
Third, establish relationships with denominational officials so they know of your desire to serve. Many denominations have workshops and denominationally sponsored internship programs that offer excellent opportunities for serving. As you get to know these men, you can let them know of your desires and interests. As they can hear of potential calls, you might come to mind when they’re looking to recommend candidates.
Fourth, do what you can to establish relationships with elders and pastors in your local presbytery or classis. Too many students make little to no effort to attend their regional church meetings and only after graduation try to establish connections. In this vein, investigate the licensure and ordination processes for your denomination and begin the process before you graduate.
In the case of the student who graduated on Saturday and was ordained on Sunday, he exercised a number of these steps in his own efforts to seek a call. He volunteered to lead a Bible study for his local church. His church was seeking to start a church plant in a nearby city, so he volunteered. He also served in his local congregation. This same student got to know men at presbytery as well as denominational officials. He also began the licensure process when he was half-way through his seminary studies. Long story short, it wasn’t luck or circumstance, but careful planning and thinking ahead that contributed to this student’s success in finding a call right out of seminary. Like most athletes, this student was a starter because of good preparation.
In the next post, I will address the question of not starting. That is, what happens if you graduate and you find yourself riding the pine?