Our pastor hasn’t encouraged people to commit their lives to special service or ministry for years. Friends in other churches report the same thing. How do we present the mandate to hear and follow the call of God, particularly to young Christians?
In recent years, with a strong emphasis on personal involvement and every Christian’s role in ministering, many churches have moved away from an emphasis on commitments to vocational ministry. As Baptists, we have attempted to avoid the distinctions between clergy and laity, and we know the service of a pastor is no more “special” than anyone else’s in God’s sight. It would be easy, then, to assume we should avoid calling attention to vocational ministry.
Every believer is called to live out his or her faith through ministry or service — both within and outside the church — and we should celebrate and encourage the variety of individuals who are part of the body of Christ. While we affirm and celebrate all of those callings, the church plays a unique role in helping individuals discern a calling to serve vocationally as ministers.
While career counselors and vocational groups will provide opportunities for young people to explore a variety of vocational options, only the church is able to encourage and support those who feel a call to ministry. We need look no further than Scripture to see how God used other ministers and the people of God to affirm and encourage a call to ministry in the life of an individual. Sometimes, these affirmations of calling were done with great fanfare, like Samuel anointing David (1 Samuel 16), and sometimes, these affirmations of calling were merely invitations, like Paul saying to Timothy, “I want you to go with me” (Acts 16). We read stories of ministers who helped put words to a call from God that the individual couldn’t understand, like Eli telling Samuel to wait and listen when God called next (1 Samuel 3). Sometimes, it was the church and not the individual who first heard the calling of God (Barnabas and Saul, Acts 13).
One of the most important roles for us as the local church, whether we are vocational ministers or not, is to help all people find fulfillment in listening to and obeying God’s call in their lives. We need to be asking those in our churches to consider whether God might be calling them to vocational ministry. We need for pastors and youth ministers and children’s ministers to talk about how they sensed God’s calling in their own lives. We need to be watching for those among us whom the Lord has set aside for special service, because perhaps we as the church will hear that word before they do.
Is there someone in your church about whom the Holy Spirit is speaking to you saying, “Set (them) apart for me for the work to which I have called them”? (Acts 13:2)
Emily Row Prevost, team leader/coordinator leader
Communications/spiritual formation specialist
Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dallas