Only recently have I realized a weakness in my ministry leadership is leading others into vocational ministry. Or rather, a lack of it. Looking over my 17 years in ministry, it seems I have influenced few to consider that path for themselves. While people must personally respond to a ministry calling, I think there is more that churches—and pastors—can do to create an environment that promotes vocational ministry.
Here are a few spark plugs I’m discovering:
Pray. “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Luke 10:2, NLT).
I’m simply not doing this enough. Jesus had sent out the 12 disciples previously, and in Luke 10, he commissioned 70 more short-term missionaries. Despite this sizeable force, he challenges them not only to go into the harvest as workers and encouragers, but also to pray for others to join them. Knowing this verse isn’t enough. I must pray it.
Show ministry options. During my college years, our pastor often talked of his ministry call and time in seminary. His openness about that journey of discovering God’s will encouraged me to consider it as well.
As we create an environment of ministry awareness, I see two important areas of opportunity. First, we’re able to showcase broad categories of ministry. Once I felt certain of my ministry call, I presumed I would serve as a youth pastor until I finished seminary and “grew up” to become a lead pastor. But not everyone is built for those roles. We should show people the opportunities for parachurch, missionary, and church planting roles.
Speaking of missionaries and planters, we can also connect the people in the pews with people who are already serving in those important roles. Take time in your worship services to emphasize and pray for specific missionaries and planters.
My friend Stephen has been working with church planting in South Dakota for several years. Not only has my church prayed and learned about those efforts, but I am also inviting Stephen to our church this fall. My hope is that face-to-face interaction may increase awareness and even lead someone to consider such an
opportunity themselves. If you don’t know any missionaries or planters, the International and North American Mission Board websites are great places to start.
Pull back the curtain. Just prior to confirming my own call into ministry, the youth pastor at our church began asking me to assist him. At first I helped with some mission trips, and eventually even stepped in for a Bible study or two. Only later did I realize he saw something in me and was helping me to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6); namely, gifts of teaching I was barely aware of at that point.
Kelly is an acquaintance from seminary, and a pastor in Arkansas that I recently reached out to on this subject. He too has seen only a few consider ministry as a vocation, but for those who appear to have the “hint of a call,” Kelly looks for opportunities. Allowing the individual a chance to teach or join up with a mission work can bring them an awareness of a potential calling.
Most recently, while attending World Changers with our youth group, I met Michael. This high school junior from Oklahoma told me he is considering youth ministry or full-time missions as a career. I asked why he found himself leaning towards an uncommon call for his age:
“My church has definitely contributed so much in providing a culture of ministry,” he said. “People in my church have really invested in me, offering much advice. They’ve not only provided many mission opportunities, but also allowed valuable time with my youth pastor. He has shown me what his job consists of, even showing me how he schedules his time.”
When ministers of the church pull back the curtain, we demonstrate we’re not spiritual superheroes. God will provide the capabilities to those he calls.
Only one in every seven U.S. pastors is under the age of 40. I would guess similar trends exist in other ministry positions. So let’s pray more for God to raise up workers from our churches. Let’s expose our congregations to the people and ministries God is using to advance the gospel worldwide. And let’s look for every opportunity to pull back the curtain and invite people into the work of the ministry. Some may only stay for the short-term, but you may just awaken a new wave of ministers and missionaries to the exciting opportunities God has prepared for them!
Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.