It is a wonderful life decision to choose to serve God as one of His holy priests. It is a life decision ALL God’s children are called to make. The block that presents itself to the modern children of God – since the Reformation especially – is the question: How does one become recognized as a priest of God?
For the disciples of Jesus, they were transformed from followers to leaders on Pentecost Sunday. It seemed instantaneous; but, they had proved their merit over the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Maybe that was like their seminary? I don’t think so. Three thousand pilgrims were instantly filled with the Holy Spirit and became the leaders of a new Faith on that same day. They were strangers (foreigners) in Jerusalem, having never known Jesus of Nazareth.
Alas, it is not like that anymore. The answer to the question, “How can I be accepted as an ordained priest of God?” for many centuries now has been through petitioning a Church for entrance into a program that educates and prepares one to serve God, through serving a Church.
It is, therefore, important to see the challenges that is placed before one who has a heartfelt desire to serve God – THE CALL – and the restrictions that are inevitably placed around one’s heart, simply by having to serve God as an employee of an institution. The various denominations of Christianity have various methods and ritual dogma that all their servants must learn and administer to their congregations. Most people grow up in one denomination and from the influence of their family and local church they only know that single way of ministering to people. Becoming a minister is often quite different than one’s preconception, when one makes the decision to serve God as a priest in an organization of religion. Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.” This rule applies to the two masters that become God and a Church. They are not one and the same. The discernment process that now flourishes in Christian churches and the various seminaries and theological institutions of higher learning is to seek fresh young minds that can be shaped into a mold that fits a Church’s long-range goals. Young people who want to serve God are typically well-adapted to the educational process and have excellent intellectual skills. Older applicants usually have been away from the college environment and struggle with educational workloads and the technical demands for writing papers. In addition to older applicants having a shorter ‘life span’ as a minister, meaning the classroom space taken by an older student is more expensive. Younger applicants see a Church as an employer and a career opportunity, while an older applicant will probably have had a more lucrative career, which will need to be sacrificed in order to be accepted into a course for ministry. Finally, the biggest slap in the face older applicants can expect is they will most likely be pegged into a smaller, aging congregation, while the younger applicant can expect to take ‘fast track’ assignments and be placed in assistant positions at larger churches, where youth ministries are an important part of the Church’s plan for growing its business.
This is the cold reality that awaits anyone who is allowed to enter into the seminary experience, once the Call has been heard and a need to answer that Call by God to serve Him. The discernment process is designed to sway the older applicant away from ordination, as their desire to serve God will be changed to the pretense of serving God, while actually serving the needs of a Church. Being swayed away might not be a bad thing.
It is important to realize that serving God only happens when one is teaching the Word of God. To teach the Word of God, one must know what Scripture means … deeply. One does not learn how to teach the Word of God at seminary. One learns a lot of historical information, especially that related to the Church mostly associated with the seminary, but that is Church History. One learns how to craft a sermon, to be as short as possible; so short it teaches little (if anything not heard before). One learns scholarly arguments against who wrote what books and when, leading one to come to fear the decision to enter seminary, simply because passing exams given by professors that are heavily leaned towards academia means accepting their opinions as ‘Gospel’. The problem with seminary professors is they usually have little experience as ministers or priests, or what experience they do have often speaks of failed experiences that led them back to academia for a paycheck. Seminary professors have the power to reject a seminarian, so seminarians learn to serve the masters of book knowledge, as the ones who have bigger brains. The respect paid to bigger brains becomes one’s target goal after graduation: to be seen as a great mind, which means a lofty place of self-worth.
One cannot serve God teaching scholarly opinions. One cannot serve God by thinking one knows as much as God. Grandiose self-worth is the antithesis of serving God.
When following the guideline of a homiletics professor, one finds the shorter the sermon the easier it is to cover up one’s lack of knowledge about the meaning of Scripture. No seminary teaches the meaning of Scripture. This means every graduate of a seminary is a glossed up, wet-behind-the-ears deacon (soon to be priest or minister), with a ‘children’s church’ knowledge of Bible Stories. This is why reading the Holy Bible becomes a personal task that does nothing to please a seminary professor, but does much towards pleasing God. The more one reads the Holy Bible and the more one takes reading Scripture seriously – seeking to learn the meaning (praying for that achievement) – then the more God will reveal to one. These revelations are the precursor to actually being filled with the Holy Spirit and being able to see the deeper meanings contained within Scripture … WITH GOD’S HELP.
If one does both and establishes a closeness with God AND graduates from seminary and is placed in a parish or church, then one can work to change some things the Church is incapable of, simply from not being a servant of God and not being filled with god’s Holy Spirit. If one graduates and is ordained in an Episcopalian church, then one can make changes to the reading schedule each service. Since priests routinely only preach on the merits of the Gospel, completely ignoring the Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle readings, the people in the congregation would be fine with cutting out all the superfluous readings altogether. With that time saved, one led by the Holy Spirit can then add minutes to the Gospel lesson and preach a really good sermon on the Gospel that actually teaches the Word of God. After three years doing that, then the readings can change from being the Gospel, to being one of the others listed in the lectionary. Then the people will be given serious meaning for those pieces of Scripture too, educating them to the Word. If that is maintained over a twenty year period of time, one should produce a series of Saints who will go out to minister to the world, having been touched by your teachings. That is the only way to serve God and let the Church get behind you.
If you have indeed received THE CALL, then God is testing you. Who will you serve? Him? Or the Church? Remember, you will either love the one and hate the other; or hold on to the one and despise the other. The only benefit of being ordained to a religious organization is one gains an automatic audience. Of course, the audience has been known to reject changes of their beloved ritual dogma. That is when one needs to remember that Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” That means people do not like hearing the truth being told.