The Call of God

THe call of God

Finding Vocation Amidst the Vanities of the World

Ethan Zimmerman

M.Div. Candidate, NALS Seminary Center at TSM

What is a call? What does it mean to have a vocation? These are questions that I have pondered over the last several years during my undergraduate studies as I prepped to start seminary and to begin walking the path to ordained ministry.  When I first felt the call to ministry, I was finishing up my senior year of high school, and I had the recurring thought and nudge deep in my being that I had to preach. At this point I had signed up to go to Ohio Northern University for their 3+3 Criminal Justice and Law School program. As the call kept up and didn’t go away, I started to make excuses, saying I could preach to my clients as a lawyer and minister to them that way. This is a mighty fine and venerable way to preach the Gospel to those in your reach, but that is not what God had in His plan for me. 

Dale Stanley and Ethan Zimmerman
Seminarians Dale Stanley and Ethan Zimmerman lead an evening prayer service.

As the months wore away, I graduated high school and entered my last summer of freedom as a kid before college. I started working at McDonald’s as a fry cook and absolutely hated it. I thought to myself, “Isn’t it a good thing that I am going to college and then law school! I’ll never have to work a job like food service again!” 

Before I knew it, the summer was over, and I moved away from home and to my freshman dorm for band camp. I quickly adjusted to my new home and met lots of people. One of the first questions on a college campus that you’re asked by a new person is, “What is your major?” I’d happily chirp away talking about the Criminal Justice program, law school, politics, and running for office as soon as I was old enough to do so. This all quickly changed as band camp came to an end and the semester started. Not wanting to lose ground in my faith walk, I decided to attend a worship service put on by a campus ministry group on the Thursday of the first week of the semester. During that service, the call to ministry went from the sweet and floating sound of a wind chime to a boisterous organ pumping out the beginning melody of a hymn and it became difficult to ignore. The preacher for the service spoke on purpose and vocation, and at about the half way point of his sermon, I couldn’t take it anymore. The arrogant denial that I had been giving to God for the last several months came to an end. I realized that what God wanted me to do was not just some alternative career or another path for my life, but the only one that I could walk with any degree of contentment. After the service I quickly called my grandparents crying and told them, and they were delighted, telling me they knew it all along. I found relief that the internal call that I felt was confirmed by them and that it wasn’t some odd interest that I was entertaining. 

Ethan Zimmerman, Luke Ratke, Luke Beaver, and Bishop Dan Selbo
Ethan and fellow NALS classmates with Bishop Selbo in March 2023.

Soon, I started the journey of preparing to go to seminary, switching my major to religion, working for the campus chaplain as an intern at a local soup kitchen/thrift store making food for the local kids during the summer for a free lunch program (the Lord has a good sense of humor with that one), and eventually working as a mentor at the NEXUS Institute, walking with high schoolers for a week as they learned about ministry. From the time I started my vocational journey until now, I learned a few things about what it means to follow God’s call.

The first thing I learned is that a call from God is sacred. God does not wantonly make decisions or do anything recklessly (contrary to what some popular songs suggest). When God calls you to a vocation, which could be anything, it is because He wants you to do His work and will. While many different people can do the job in a similar manner, you are the one chosen by God in His providence for it, and that is what is sacred about it. The sacred character of a vocation makes it unique in the one called to it, as it gives the person purpose and clarity as to why they do what they do. Pastors are called to lead a congregation because the congregation is a flock that needs spiritual counsel, wisdom, and direction, to be uplifted in the faith. Nurses are called to give special care and attention to those that are suffering physical ailments that can be soul shattering in their severity. Teachers are called to guide and educate youth, to help them mature into adulthood. Whatever the vocation may be, it is sacred because God is the one that ordains it and if it is sacred, it should not be taken lightly, but with the utmost seriousness, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

The second thing I learned is that a call from God will take you where you don’t expect. I never thought that I would be where I am now when I was graduating high school. I expected to be halfway through law school and preparing for a career in the criminal justice system and eventually civil government. I never expected to meet the people that I have, minister to them, and having them minister to me in return. I never expected to walk so deeply into the faith to receive backlash and hatred from those who despise God and the faith as a whole. I never expected to move away to a different state to pursue my calling. Out of all the unexpected things that have happened, I have never once been abandoned by the One who called me. The Lord has walked with me every step of the way, for, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

The third thing I learned is that following a call from God is not an easy endeavor. To pursue the call that God has put on your life is no cake walk. If your vocation is sacred and is to be taken seriously, many aspects of the call must be approached in a thoughtful and diligent manner, requiring that you put in the hard work. In my case, I must be diligent in my studies at seminary, so that I can absorb the lessons and knowledge, the habits and dispositions necessary to pastor a church. If your vocation involves unexpected variables, you must be ready to adapt and to face obstacles and challenges that come your way. If you knew exactly what to expect, you wouldn’t have to put any trust in God, because you would be able to prepare adequately ahead of time when trouble came your way. Thanks be to God that we are not alone in this endeavor! For though it might be nerve-wracking to go out into the unknown when following God, we should take heart, for the One who calls us will also equip us, for we may have our doubts like Moses, but God says to us, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing,  or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak’” (Exodus 4:11–12).

When pondering what a call means, what does a vocation truly entail, take these things into consideration. If you are truly feeling called to go forth into a direction such as ministry, does it make you squirm and want to run away and deny it like I tried too? Do you feel like what you’re doing now is sacred, or perhaps you feel drawn in a more serious direction? Do you feel like you are being drawn out into the unknown in pursuit of something greater, or are you dictating how your life is being run? Do you pick the easy road, avoiding anything difficult, or are you willing to take the deep dive, willing to trust the Lord when things are beyond your control? It doesn’t matter how old you are, what you are doing right now, or what you haven’t done, it is never too late to pursue the vocation God has been placed upon your life. Our God calls, will you answer?

Faculty and students from the NALS Seminary Center
Faculty and students from the NALS Seminary Center in Ambridge, Pennsylvania gather for the affirmation of call for President Riesen and installation of Dr. Luy and Dr. Pierce.