Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

1/12 2021

Are You Called to Vocational Ministry?

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Since the church was born, people of faith have expressed their unique roles in God’s kingdom using language that conveys being chosen, appointed, or called by God. Paul said that he “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11), and that he “had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised” (Gal. 2:7). But this preparation and equipping weren’t reserved for only clergy or apostles: “for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Sometimes this language of God’s calling can be dangerous. We’re flawed, limited creatures who often err, so it’s wise to exercise caution when we speak about what God has called us to do. But even exercising caution and wisdom, some questions of calling are inescapable: What should I be doing with my time? What does God have in mind for my life? What are the good works that God has prepared for me to do?

There is no magic formula to discover our callings. Nor is there a 10-question quiz that will tell us whether or not we’re called to seminary or vocational ministry. Learning who to be, how to live, and how to best use our gifts to serve others are the works of a lifetime as we seek to walk with Jesus. But here are some thoughts from a few authors who have written on the subject. I hope these help you as you discern which path is right for your next stage of life!


David F. Ford is the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He has written and edited many books, including 1997’s The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life. In its second chapter, called “Vocations and Compulsions,” Ford explores the relationship that our desires have with the choices we make in life. After explaining that education and attention will allow us to carefully and wisely decide which desires we will allow to have power over us, Ford provides this broad definition of vocation: “the long-term shaping of our lives by desires that we own.” He then provides some helpful tips for this work of life-shaping, including the need for vocational companions (e.g. a “soul friend” or spiritual director).

  • Which desires will you allow to have power in your life because they are from God?
  • In what ways might these desires shape your life and vocation?
  • Who will walk alongside you as you explore your vocational calling?


Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister with degrees in divinity and theology. She will be presenting at the February 2021 session of PTS’s Wise Women and Spirituality series. Her most recent book is Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith. One of its chapters, called “All Work is Play,” invites us to consider what it would mean to “queer” our concept of vocation. Here Kim-Kort offers this description of vocation: “a way to grasp how we occupy space in this world—to delve into the question of what kind of work will be an expression and extension of our deepest selves.” She goes on to note that these callings will reciprocate God’s own loving activity in the world.

  • How will you occupy space in this world?
  • What kinds of work will express and extend your deepest self?
  • Which aspects of God’s loving activity will you reciprocate?


Parker J. Palmer is an author, educator, and activist. His work focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. One of his short books—Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation—is required reading for PTS’s Spiritual Formation class, part of the sequence for the Master of Divinity degree program. (Palmer will also present at the Seminary’s 2021 Henderson Summer Leadership Conference May 24-25 addressing Religion and the Common Good.) The book’s thesis is simple but profound: our vocation does not come from an external voice demanding us to become something we’re not, but from an internal voice calling us to become who God created us to be. Once we have begun to discover our inner true self—often by sitting in silent reflection or searching our own past for clues—our vocation will be something we simply can’t not do.

  • When have you tried to conform yourself or your life to a demanding external voice?
  • What clues have you discovered about the true self God created you to be?
  • When you’re in touch with your inner voice and true self, what is it you can’t not do?


Jon Mathieu is a master of divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a 2019-2020 Newbigin Fellow. While his background is in mathematics, he has been engaged in ministry in Pittsburgh for more than a decade. After years serving as a campus minister, ministry director, and writer in evangelical contexts, he is now following God into more expansive and inclusive visions for ministry. His writing appears at RELEVANT and Red Letter Christians.


10/30 2020


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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is: “Hebrew Grammar I.”

Steve Tuell teaching Hebrew

Dr. Tuell poses with a doll in his likeness made by his Hebrew students.

About Hebrew Grammar I

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about ancient Hebrew with the Rev. Dr. Steven S. Tuell in the class “Hebrew Grammar I.” This course fulfills a requirement for the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and is also open to students in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) and Master of Theology (MTS) degree programs.

This course will introduce students to the basics of biblical Hebrew and to the tools necessary for translating and interpreting Hebrew texts. Students will learn Hebrew consonants and vowel points and the rudiments of grammar and syntax. They will learn basic vocabulary and begin to translate and interpret simple sentences from the Hebrew Bible.

By the end of the course, students will be able to give a primary meaning for many vocabulary terms common in the Old Testament texts. They will be able to translate some simple sentences written in biblical Hebrew. Finally, they will use grammatical and syntactical terms to evaluate the elements of Hebrew narrative.

The required text for the course is the revised edition of C. L. Seow’s A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew. Dr. Tuell also recommends two additional texts, and these will be available to students through provided software: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia by the German Bible Society, and The New Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Students should expect both quizzes and tests to be part of the course.


About the Instructor

The Rev. Dr. Steven Tuell is the James A. Kelso Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He received a B.A. from West Virginia Wesleyan College, an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. Dr. Tuell’s particular research interests are biblical prophecy, particularly the book of Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve, and the biblical literature of the early Persian Period. He has completed a textbook on the prophets (with Stephen Cook and John Strong) and his works in progress include a book on creation in Scripture. An ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, he has served churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Virginia. Dr. Tuell preaches and teaches frequently throughout the area.


10/27 2020

Spotting Grace When You Need It Most

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People who know me know I’m prone to tears. Like when I’m singing hymns in church, or when I’m reading a children’s novel to my 11-year-old daughter—so often when I’m reading to her.

Or when I’m talking with my spiritual director. Recently, I cried when I shared this story with her:

The other day, my family visited an Audubon nature reserve, where I thought I spotted one of my favorite birds: a ruby-crowned kinglet—a tiny thing, not much bigger than a hummingbird. I hadn’t seen one in years. But the kids were fighting over my binoculars to get a better look at some cedar waxwings, so I couldn’t confirm my initial impression. Don’t they have that olive-green color, a white eye ring, a habit of flitting their wings? I thought. I’d intended to check my bird book when we got home, but forgot.

The next day, my 15-year-old son and I were taking a walk near our home. I told him that I’d forgotten to look the bird up yesterday, and he reminded me that we’d seen one together in the neighborhood about five years earlier.

“We could even see the ruby crown. You pointed it out to me,” he said.

We talked about the way it hovered to nab insects from the underside of leaves. About the way it flitted its wings, giving it a nervous appearance.

As we were speaking, a small bird darted above our heads. It hovered near a branch hanging over the street. It flitted its wings nervously. It wore a drab olive coat and white eye-liner.

“That’s it—that’s a ruby-crowned kinglet!” I said.

Another joined it, and the boy and I stood in the middle of the road watching these birds frolic among the leaves.

Jean Pierre de Caussade, a 17th century French priest, wrote about receiving what he called the “sacrament of the present moment.” He meant that each moment is charged with God’s presence, that each moment is a vehicle of grace. It’s a spirituality I try to practice, especially in those moments when the Presence isn’t so obvious—washing the dishes comes to mind.

But sometimes it is. Sometimes when you need grace the most—when a raging pandemic and rancorous politics, for instance, squeeze all peace from your spirit—sometimes that sacrament is clear, obvious.

And beautiful.

Like when your memory of a kinglet seems to summon one, and you and your son watch grace flit freely above your heads.


The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens is associate professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches courses in the MDivDoctor of Ministry, and Continuing Education programs. Before coming to PTS he served urban and rural churches for eight years in North Carolina as co-pastor with his wife, Ginger. He has written multiple books including The Shape of Participation: A Theology of Church Practices which was called “this decades best work in ecclesiology” by The Christian Century. His latest work is Threshold of Discovery: A Field Guide to Spirituality in Midlife (Church Publishing Inc., 2019).

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