AMARILLO—Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo has licensed 20 students to the ministry in the last six years.
Calling out ministers, missionaries and other servants of Christ is nothing new for the Panhandle church, Pastor Gil Lain said.
"It has been a characteristic of Paramount for years," he said. "Paramount has been a sending point. One of our International Mission Board missionaries … calls us a launching pad. We've got a bunch who are out there on the mission field and in place in churches right now. It's been a pattern here."
At least a half-dozen more young men who attended the church through high school have been licensed by other churches, and at least a half-dozen couples serve as missionaries, he added.
Family Minister Aaron Groff, who until recently served as youth minister, said there isn't a formula in place at Paramount that leads to so many feeling a call to ministry.
Instead, there's a climate that nurtures it.
"More than anything, we try to create a culture that is gospel-centered, where we challenge students to walk in an authentic relationship with Christ," he said.
"I think it's also important that the guys who have been in ministry that came out of Para-mount came back and shared their story. Some of them have helped us with camps and things. There's just been this heritage in place."
When young people sense God's calling and express it, Paramount begins a mentoring process.
Individual mentoring sessions have been held at least biweekly and more often weekly, Lain said. He recalled one group of young men who met with him at 6 a.m. on Thursday mornings and the sacrifice they willingly made to be there so early.
"It was the highlight of my week," Lain said. "I received so much from those guys, because they were hungry for learning, and they trusted me and believed in me. In the midst of just the everyday church life and the pressures and burdens, they were a bright light. Even when things were hard on them, they still were a bright light and gave me so much."
Young people who sense a calling on their lives also often are plugged into intern roles, even while still in high school.
Lain also credits the congregation with fostering a climate where people are open to hearing God's calling.
"Paramount is the kind of church where staff members don't just come and leave like a revolving door. I've been here 20 years, and Aaron has been here eight years," he said.
"What our young people see is a church treating a staff like a staff ought to be treated. They see staff members who have joy, who have good support—and they think it's always like that."
For those who have different experiences at other churches, it can be "a real shock to them," he acknowledged.
"But it sets the level high where they know it can be good. That's a real tribute to this church family. Not to us as staff—we're the recipients. It's the church family. It says a lot about Paramount that people want to go into ministry because they see that," Lain said.
Many in the church also emphasize the importance of finding one's purpose in Christ, Groff added.
Paramount does not "push kids toward ministry, but we do teach really strongly that everyone is a minister," Lain said. "Our job is to equip the saints for ministry. And there are a lot other young people here who aren't going into 'the ministry,' but they see what they are going to do as God's call on their life, and they plan to serve the Lord the rest of their life," he said.
The importance of serving Christ regardless of vocation permeates the church membership, Groff said.
"It helps that it's part of the DNA of the church. Our Sunday school teachers, our small-group leaders, the people who go to camp with us—they understand the bigger picture that we serve in our places of work. Not just as a place of work—it's not by accident, but with great purpose," he explained.
"When we're at school, we're to be on mission on that campus; when we travel, we are to be missionaries. Our adults understand that, and they invest that into our students as well."
This year, the congregation planned an intergenerational mission team of youth and adults to foster those mentoring relationships.
In the end, however, calling is not a thing engineered by people, Lain and Groff agreed.
"This is a God thing, not something we can claim any credit for," Groff said.