One of my mentors, someone very dear to me, my campus pastor, holds the theory that we aren’t fully adults until we are thirty; that young adulthood is a decade phase of liminality between the threshold of youth-hood and adulthood. In many ways I agree, considering I feel I have a lot of growing up to do and often I feel like I am constantly in-between. At twenty-three years old, a few months shy of my college graduation I felt a calling to pastoral ministry and by twenty-nine, I hope to be an ordained pastor. I am a part of the group of seminarians that used to be much larger, those that will be ordained or consecrated before the age of 30. I am going to be a young clergy person. So I ask the question “Is someone too young to go to seminary?”
There were several reasons why I began to explore this question, but none of them matter nearly as much as the question itself. Today, there are far fewer pipeliners in seminary than there used to be. Maybe part of it has to do with the times. Or it could be the encouragement of more second-career seminarians. Or maybe it is the strong persuasion to do anything else you possibly can, such as an old trend in some denominations to encourage candidates to live a little bit first.
So my answer, unsurprisingly, is, “No. I don’t think, within reason, that anyone is too young to go to seminary.” Yes, I still agree that most candidates should have a Bachelor’s degree first, even though many pipeliners feel called much earlier. And yes, I believe some pipeliners are developmentally less mature than others and are obliviously less developmentally mature than our older classmates. And yes, we have many challenges ahead of us, including amount of growth, issues in establishing our authority (both with parishioners and colleagues), and finding a witty yet tactful comeback to being questioned on our age on a regular basis.
But you see, despite all of this, we are called. God calls all types of people. And some of us may actually end up being called “the pastor that looks like she’s twelve.” We may grow beards, cut our hair short, buy more “grown up clothes” to establish authority, but we are called none-the-less. You see because it’s not entirely ourselves and the things we do that give us authority to pursue this calling and to be pastors. It is also the people to whom we minster. It is the college student taking to her mom on her cell phone on the way to a retreat who calls the Wartburg intern, her pastor. Or it’s the woman who called the CPE student, the chaplain. Or it is the man who asks the very green 25 year-old seminarian, “How long have you been in ministry?” and then pours out his heart. It is these people who recognize who we are and prove that no one is too young to go to seminary.