Joseph Borden on Following his Connection to Ministry - Princeton Theological Seminary
Joseph Borden

Middler Joseph Borden was leading a picturebook life. The recent law school graduate was working for a great Maryland financial firm, making a steady income, and had just accepted a nice promotion. “I thought I was done with school,” he says. “I was doing fine at work. And then I felt that infamous call: ‘Pursue ministry, go a little deeper.’

“And so I prayed a very specific prayer. Faced with debt from undergrad and law school, I couldn’t take any more on. I asked God that if it was meant for me to go to seminary, that essentially, I wouldn’t have to pay for my schooling. … I applied to Princeton Theological Seminary and lo and behold, I got a full tuition scholarship.”

Prayer, Borden will assure you, works. He says that prayer and mentorship from his home pastor sent him to Princeton Theological Seminary – the only school he applied to and the only one he dreamed of attending. At Princeton Seminary, he has gravitated toward pastoral ministry. The Newburgh, N.Y. native plans to earn his Master of Divinity, then head back to Maryland, where he plans a bi-vocational career in ministry and in the law.

Following a call to ministry was something Borden, raised in the Church of God in Christ, felt coming for a while. “My grandfather was a pastor. My parents are pastors. So, I’ve always been involved in ministry. I don’t know if there’s any point in my life where I didn’t see myself to some extent being involved,” he says.

“But in my adult life, more than just feeling I’ll be connected to ministry, I felt to lead ministry.” He heeded that call to leadership and became the minister of music at his home church. That cemented his decision to pursue ministry.

“Being in a church leadership role meant offering my best self, and that meant I needed more training. And so, for me, that was all part of the call to attend Seminary.” He says he has been surprised and challenged by his studies at Princeton Seminary.

“Being from a Pentecostal background, I will say that I had always been taught, whether explicit or implicit, that there’s really only one way of doing things. Just a very specific type of interpretation. Being at PTS has been very enlightening for me to see the various ways that people experienced the Holy, the Divine, that is different from my expression of faith. It’s different from the ways I have seen God move before. People can be willing and open to receiving God in new ways.”

“First, be prayerful,” he says. “Prayer got me here and it will sustain me whatever happens next. Second, trust in God. Just trust.”

Borden’s plan for his future is not a new concept. The bi-vocational ministry has been on the rise for years now, as fewer churches can fully fund a full-time clergy salary.

“All of my pastors have been bi-vocational. And my current pastor is a lawyer, and a pastor. He’s retired now, but I was able to see him doing both those things well.” While he specializes in tax law, he sees a direct link between the study of the Word and the study of law.

“My legal training informed the way that I view and read scripture here in Seminary, and my training here at Seminary might also inform the way that I approach the law.”

For example: the writings of Paul.

“A lot of Paul’s writing actually follows kind of a legal formula. In law school, professors call it IRAC. First, you state your Issue and you give the Rule of law, the Application of law, and a Conclusion. And so, when I’m reading Paul’s writings, I see that, that’s what he’s doing! It changes the way that I’m reading it.”

He is grateful for all that Princeton Seminary has taught him in this journey. His heart and mind have opened to new things – even some lessons that trouble him.

He recently returned from a two-week Princeton Seminary travel course to Nairobi. The course was designed it increase understanding of other cultures and beliefs. The trip, he says, was “transformative.”

“I found the reverence for God there to be both deeply convicting – and also very beautiful. We arrived there on a Saturday night and on Sunday morning, we headed to All Saints Cathedral. On our way to church, it seemed like the whole city was shut down. And the closer you got to the church, even hours before the service, we saw all these cars, all these people trying to rush into the service – like by the thousands!”

“It was deeply convicting, especially because when it’s time to go to church here. I’m counting down to the last minute to when I can leave for church and still be on time. But there, people were rushing to be there, leaving hours ahead of time, to be in prayer before the service.”

He was moved by what he felt was a deeper reverence for God than he had seen in other parts of the Western world. He will take all of these lessons with him when he leaves Princeton Seminary and leaves some advice of his own for those to come.

“First, be prayerful,” he says. “Prayer got me here and it will sustain me whatever happens next. Second, trust in God. Just trust.”