You’ve contemplated a career change and determined you are called to serve in ministry. After much counsel, prayer and contemplation you determined a seminary degree is necessary for your path forward. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the decision process. There are still many decisions to be made.
Here are 4 of the most critically important questions to ask:
1. Is there a genuine call on my life to the ministry?
No matter how long you’ve contemplated a career change of this sort, the wise move is to confirm, confirm and confirm again. Consider Gideon who, although he was given clear instructions from an angel of the Lord (Judges 6:11) he still sought confirmation (Judges 6:17, 36 & 39). How much more should you make your calling sure before God? Consider the fallout rate among seminary graduates (some recent estimates show that over 60% of seminary graduates are no longer in ministry within 10 years of their degree). The prudent path would be to confirm, reconfirm and seek as much counsel and information as possible. Particularly since at this point in your life, such a change would be dramatic (in many ways, as discussed below). Suffice it to say that such a weighty decision should have close to a 100% confidence level.
2.What do I want to do with a seminary degree?
While the specific path may still be unclear, you ought to have some inclination as to what direction you intend to take with a seminary degree (preaching, missions, counseling or administration). An old adage says that you can’t steer a parked car (meaning that God can change your direction more easily if you are moving forward), but at the minimum you should have an idea of where you want to start out. There is a difference between the undeclared college major (or general liberal arts) and not having an idea of where you will focus your attention in seminary.
3. What will the Impact be on my family and can I afford a change now and post-graduation?
“Where God guides, He Provides” is the adage you will hear when you discuss your decision. But remember the adage about newlyweds: “when bills come in the door, love goes out the window!” God loves His children, but His provision may not look like what you and your family are used to. “I’ve been young and now am old – I have never seen the righteous begging bread” is a comforting idea, but you must face the fact that income levels in ministry are not directly competitive with secular business. Adjustments must be made and your family may not have the same level of passion for your potential career change. Sacrifices must be made and they must be clearly identified beforehand to ensure family unity before the change in enacted.
God measures success differently than people do. Noah had a great ministry – he represents a type of Christ. But Noah had no converts outside of his own family! Moses led an entire nation out of captivity and into the promised land – another type of Christ. Yet his followers complained and gave him trouble nearly every step of the way. These men are highly praised elsewhere in scripture for their faith, not their works or success in the temporal realm. We don’t know what Noah or Moses’ families thought about their ministries; are you so passionate and certain of your call to follow God at the expense of your family (see Peter’s conversation with Jesus in Mark 10:28ff).
God will provide for your needs here and in eternity – but He also urges us to count the cost (Luke 14:25-30). You cannot ignore the physical and practical impact of your decision.
4. How will I transition back into a classroom/learning environment?
This question may seem trite, but it is an important consideration for this reason: pride. Presumably, you are well established in your career and are a respected member of a particular culture. You are a resource for others, well-known as a producer (or one who gets results) and the praises of men are easy to come by (and receive).
Now imagine sitting as a ‘freshman’ in a classroom with your new peers – fellow students/sojourners seeking God’s Will and direction just like you. Perhaps these younger students have an advantage over you in that they are not only familiar with a classroom environment but have gone to a Christian undergraduate school where they are already well-versed in the study of Hebrew and Greek. Will you submit to this new pecking order? Will you want to challenge their status because you have a previously successful career?
Pride is an insidious enemy of your soul and will stroke your ego at unexpected times. It will lead you into a debate over financial success and experience over knowledge of church history just to prove you are worth something to a young student. It will divide people who need to cooperate and isolate you from those who can help you reach your (and God’s) goal for you. Pride is best swallowed and replaced with genuine humility and Christ-likeness (see Philippians 2). It will be the key to your transition back to the formal learning environment (even online).
As previously discussed, a decision to walk away from a successful career to seek God’s Will for you in Ministry is a weighty one fraught with obstacles and unanticipated situations. In many counselors, there is wisdom (Proverbs 15:22). May God grant you wisdom and direction and may you be found faithful to His call!