My pastor and I had finished our lunch meeting to put the finishing touches on the congregation’s strategic plan for the following year. As we each enjoyed that last cup of coffee one has before paying the check, he placed his empty mug down and looked me right in the eyes. Pastor never said too much during our meetings—I liked to lead, and he liked to listen. But I could tell by the intensity in his eyes that something profoundly serious was about to be uttered. I, too, placed my cup down and waited.

Without pausing, he asked, “Why aren’t you in the ministry yet?” With his eyes still intently looking into mine, I could tell instantly that this wasn’t a rhetorical question, nor was he on a fishing expedition. His eyes said, “I mean it, Steve. What’s holding you up from applying to seminary?”

I remember pausing and allowing a few seconds to pass so I could take that stupid, guilty half-smile off my face before answering. To this day I don’t know how to adequately explain my feelings of humility, honor and “You got me” all at the same time. But I knew my pastor wanted an answer. His question had been asked in love. I knew that. It had been asked for the sake of the kingdom. I knew that too.

My eyes moved as I stared into my empty cup—I didn’t know how my answer would be received by my pastor, who was half my age but possessed the wisdom of a grandparent. Taking in a single breath and then using that air to answer, I uttered, “I know. I know. Let me talk to my wife and kids. You’re right. It’s time.”

“OK,” he said. “See you on Sunday.” He picked up his check and headed toward the cash register as I remained seated for a few more moments. I needed another cup of coffee so I could take the time to come to terms with what had just occurred.

Sometimes the call to word and sacrament emanates from a burning bush; sometimes the call to preach and preside descends from the sky in a bright light. While the visual manifestations of God were different for Moses and for Paul, in both cases the very voice of God was present.

For me, God’s voice came through the invitational words of a young man who loves Jesus so much—who loves me so much—that he was compelled by God to present me with an invitation away from my career and into ordained ministry.

The invitation was genuine, for my pastor knew my story. I guess I’ve always known that I have been gifted by God to care for others. I just needed time to mature. I learned that caring about people was not enough. If I was being called to the ordained ministry, then I needed to be called to word and sacrament.

For me, God’s voice came through the invitational words of a young man who loves Jesus so much—who loves me so much—that he was compelled by God to present me with an invitation away from my career and into ordained ministry.

The call needed to involve my understanding and acceptance that I must hunger and thirst to proclaim that living into the faith given to us through the Spirit in our baptism is the only way to live. I must admit, this maturation took time.

As Lutherans, we don’t just wake up one day and, believing we have been moved by the Spirit, instantly erect a sign that reads “Steve’s Church. Worship is 9:30 a.m. on Sundays” in front of an abandoned gas station. No, we take our call process so seriously that the internal call from God must be matched by evidence of external calls—especially from those who know our hearts and minds perhaps better than we know them ourselves.

So, just as the pastor before him had done, my current pastor said, “Why aren’t you in the ministry yet?” This time I figured that God had given me a second external call. The guilty half-smile was my face’s way of expressing to God, “OK, Lord, I’m finally listening.”

No doubt, your call to ordained ministry will come in a fashion different from mine. But ultimately, you must possess—or be willing to learn—the following: comfort around people, privately and in large groups; willingness to face the fact that you have flaws, and willingness to address and learn from them; and, most important, desire to be changed by God into someone who hungers and thirsts to proclaim the word and preside over the sacraments.

You may be in the discernment process right now. Pray. Invite others into prayer on your behalf. Talk and listen to your pastor. Make sure you have shared your inklings with your significant other, for the ministry will change their life too. Then step back and let God provide you with the peace that comes from true revelation—whether you are called or not.

To God be the glory for all God has done.


Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Leadership Initiative encourages all of us to seek out and inspire gifted people in our congregations and communities to consider a call to the ministry of the gospel. Find out more.

Steve Hilgeman
Hilgeman is in his first call as pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Savannah, Ga.

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