If you are a man who is serious about your faith—that is, you are actively seeking to become more like Christ—you will attract attention. You will not only attract attention of those with whom you work and socialize, but you will also attract attention within your church. And eventually, someone will ask you a dangerous question:
“Have you ever thought of going to seminary?”
This question is dangerous because it is asked too frequently. In the average church, if you are a man showing real interest in the Scriptures and the church, some well-meaning person will suggest that maybe you should consider “going into the ministry,” by which they mean full-time, ordained ministry.
The most significant reason for this phenomena is that in most parishes, the only male who shows much energy and enthusiasm is normally the priest or pastor. This has conditioned everyone to assume that if you show similar devotion, you must be a candidate for ordination as well. And our seminaries do nothing to curb this trend. Since enrollment numbers are critical to survival, I have yet to see a seminary with an active program designed to weed out potential students for any reason other than academic.
When a well-meaning soul springs this idea upon you, do not fall into the trap. Don’t stop showing interest in Scripture and don’t stop assisting your church however you can. Just run from the idea of ordination.
I’m not saying that no one should ever consent to pursuing ordination, but I do think we are too readily given to the suggestion, partly due to pride. When someone suggests we might be worthy of ordination, it dangerously feeds our pride. None of us are worthy to be called servants of God and this is doubly true for shepherds.
The following story from the Desert Fathers illustrates their reaction to the suggestion of ordination.
One day they came to make Abba Isaac a priest. Hearing this, he ran away to Egypt. He went into a field and hid himself in the midst of the hay. So the clergy went after him in pursuit. Reaching the same field, they stopped there to rest a little, for it was night. They unharnessed the ass to let it graze. The ass went close to the old man, so, when dawn came and they looked for her, they found Abba Isaac too, which filled them with astonishment. They wanted to bind him, but he did not allow it, saying, “I will not run away again. For it is the will of God, and wherever I flee, I find that.”¹
I notice two things. First, Isaac was pursued by the clergy. This is significant because the clergy understand the demands of ordination better than the laity. This is not clericalism, but merely allowing those who best know the rigors to screen potential ordinands. If a few nice old women in your parish are the ones asking you to become a priest, they are merely recognizing your devotion.
Second, when Isaac could not escape, he consented. A seminary instructor once gave me some wise words of counsel: If you can do anything else and go to sleep at night with a clear conscience, do it; if you can’t, then be a pastor.
If you can’t shake the call, then you should consider following it. But understand that most parish discernment committees are too nice. They don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they usually err on the side of affirmation. Instead of trying to talk them into approving you, try to talk them out of it. If they still insist on affirming your call, then maybe it is something to consider.
You see, we need devoted men in the church. We cannot afford to run them out by talking them into seminary and ordination only to have them burn out or give up and become ineffective. Don’t let Satan cater to your pride and lift you to a higher perch from which to fall.
¹ Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Cistercian Publications: Trappist, KY. 1975. p. 99