If I had waited for the clouds to part and a thundering voice to command, “Scott, thou shalt attend Seminary!” I would definitely still be humming and hawing about whether God wanted me to pursue being a pastor. I stepped onto the road to ministry when in high school, attempting to pick some direction for the future, I asked myself what I thought my life might look like in 15-20 years. After imagining a beautiful wife (check), perfectly behaved children (still working on it), and a sweet sports car in the garage (no hope), serving as a pastor kept popping up in my mind as the only choice for a career. That was a bit of a surprise to my 18 year old self, as pastoral ministry was nowhere on my radar beforehand, but once it came to mind it seemed to be such a logical and comfortable conclusion that I confidently started walking towards that hazy and distant pulpit.
Maybe it’s because God knew I would have turned and run if I really knew what I was getting myself into, maybe it’s my natural oblivious state, but I’ve been blessed to almost never question whether I’m on the right path. That’s not on account of confidence in my own abilities –that I know I deserve to be a pastor –but rather, I keep moving forward trusting that God will provide the skills I’ll need to serve people, and that he will clear the path that leads to that shiny set of stoles, or decisively bar the way if I am called elsewhere. I know that not all men are blessed with such a clear vision about their future, so I take no credit for the assurance God has given me and am simply grateful for a peaceful heart.
Because I basically stumbled onto pursuing the vocation of pastor, I took for granted all the preparatory work that God did in me long before I caught wind of his plans: I had been given leadership experience at school and at church, public speaking came relatively naturally to me and I exercised that gift, and I was raised in a family and church that poured their hearts out in service to their neighbours. I couldn’t help but pursue a career that served people, because that was all I had ever seen modeled around me. God also surrounded me with loving people who saw the makings of God’s plan in me long before I did, and had been praying for me.
The journey to Seminary seemed endless, and then just getting into Seminary began to feel like the end in and of itself. I thought that I would simply float through four years of school and then zoom ahead to what God really had in store for me. One of the first hurdles I had to face was learning that the Seminary doesn’t “educate” or “train” pastors, they “form” pastors –or rather, God forms pastors through the Seminary. The difficult part of this is that formation hurts: changing shape from one thing to another isn’t just glazing the pottery to make it a pretty new colour, it’s taking a formless lump of clay that might have the potential to become a useful vessel, and pounding, molding, scraping, and twisting it into a useful shape – and then it gets fired.
Someone once explained the Seminary education process as breaking the students the first year, rebuilding them the second, send them out on vicarage where they will get broken and rebuilt again, and then spend the last year filling in the cracks from all the breaks. I went in with a head full of ideas, and a heart full of pride, and God used the professors, the material I studied, the work I bent over, and mostly His Word, to completely tear down everything I knew about being a pastor.
This may not seem like an encouraging word, but what has been impressed upon me through this experience, is that –just as in my salvation –God has done all the work. He gave me the abilities and experiences to make me a potential pastor, He put the idea in my head to pursue the Office of Holy Ministry, He cleared the path that led me to the Seminary, He broke down my misconceptions about being a pastor, and began building the skills, thoughts, and attitudes of a pastor in me. I have very little to do with “the success” of my Seminary journey, which is probably for the best. Although God’s plans are not always pleasant, they are all always purposeful. He has, and continues to work all things for my good, and I hope for the good of the Church as I continue on this path of formation.