Confirm Your Call

By William D. Shiell

The pandemic has become a catalyst for calling new pastors to serve in ministry. This Spring, Northern Seminary will graduate the largest class in over 60 years. We have admitted 20% even more students this Spring than at the same time last year. We praise the Lord for this trend. When the world’s needs are greatest, God’s call is the loudest.

That’s not the case for every pastor, of course. Some trends suggest that nearly 25% are planning to leave full time ministry due to the pandemic.1 If that’s true, then why are so many people saying yes to God’s call and coming to Northern to confirm that calling?

Northern recently commissioned a study of our students and graduates to determine why they are so attracted to ministry. If it seems so many pastors are leaving ministry, then why at Northern is the opposite happening? Our students are moving forward in ministry for three reasons.

  1. Seen and Known

Most Northern students have experienced a call to ministry long ago, usually in childhood or young adult life. But other commitments in life have prevented them from receiving the training necessary to take the next steps in that journey. They come to Northern because a significant person in their lives has observed their ministry, recognized their work, and pointed them toward seminary. Faculty at Northern take the time to get to know each person, spend time connecting with their cohorts outside of class, and help our students deepen their faith.

  1. Students of Scripture

People who are responding to God’s call today are studying the Bible. Like Priscilla teaching Apollos, they are already engaged with the word, attending small groups, and learning. Rarely do people come to Northern today with a blank slate. They have begun to walk out that calling in a local church or non-profit ministry and are ready to engage the complex challenges of ministry.

  1. Exceptional ministers

Northern students are also exceptional ministers. They stand out in their fields in traditional and non-traditional ways. Many are serving as traditional pastors, but most are open to whatever God calls them to do, especially as marketplace leaders. In other words, they are “exceptions” to the conventional rules of who normally goes to seminary. They are writers and chaplains, church planters and starters, nurses and business persons, and missionaries and parents. Some are still in college finishing their undergraduate degree and starting seminary simultaneously. They are innovators and creative thinkers. Someone who is “outside the church box” is responding to God’s call now because they know that the pandemic is challenging our thinking about how we share the gospel in these days.

You have an important role to play. You can help us recognize, affirm, and direct people who are just like these Northern students. Providentially, God uses persons like yourself to point people to seminary. You can often find them serving already in church or sitting on the back row wondering, “Do I have what it takes to take the next step?”

Have you recognized someone in your church with those gifts? Now is the time to say personally to them: “You have what it takes to go to seminary.” Who knows? You might be worshipping with the next Priscilla or Apollos?


1Bob Smietanal, “For some Pastors, the Pastor Year was a Sign from God it was Time to Quit,” Religion News Service, accessed May 7, 2021,

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