About 30 years ago, a wise pastor and a group of church leaders made a decision that literally changed my life, and the lives of tens of thousands of others. As I understand the story (I wasn’t there), the pastor believed that internal and external forces placed a limit on the church’s growth potential. The church was not small; but, it would probably never become a mega-church. So, instead of focusing all their energies on growing a big church, these leaders decided to ask God to raise up young men who would respond to His call to vocational ministry. The church invested time and resources in this vision. They gave pulpit time to young men who felt called to preach. The pastor made time in his schedule to mentor any young man who responded to this call. I am not sure that group understood the breadth and eternal impact of that decision.
Over the next several years, several dozens of us heard God’s call. We responded to sermons and personal communication. We walked down the aisles of youth services, church services, and revival services. We mentored each other and we spent time with our pastor, traveling evangelists, and even denominational leaders. We preached sermons that were much too long. We preached sermons that were much too short. We preached sermons that were borderline heretical. We learned from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others.
Along the way, we all grew up and we spread out. The ministry of that pastor and church has influenced dozens of churches (big and small) as we served on staff and as lead pastors. The ministry extends to hundreds of evangelism crusades, missions into closed countries, and even into seminary class rooms. Theirs’s is a legacy of tens of thousands coming to Christ and growing in Christ. All because of a simple decision by a normal local church to “call out the called.” A decision to appreciate the impact a preacher, a missionary, a church staff member, or any Christian minister can have on the kingdom of God.
I tell this story because, to be frank, I don’t hear many like it any more. It has been a long time since I heard a pastor call for young men to join him in Christian ministry. Sure, we appeal for missionaries to go to unreached people or for church planters to go to a big city. But where is the passionate appeal from the pulpit for people to hear to the call of God and respond to His leadership into vocational ministry? I have written elsewhere about the sustaining power of the call for ministry (Click Here).
In this post, I am begging pastors and student pastors to begin praying for God to call your people into ministry. It is also an appeal for pastors to make time in their sermons and schedules to call out the called. Christianity Today released a statistic several weeks ago showing that only 1 out of 7 senior pastors are under 40 (Click here). I wonder if it is because we have stopped making appeals for people to respond to God’s call to ministry?
Here are a few important points for any pastor who is willing to accept this challenge:
- 1. Highlight the benefits of Christian ministry – Too many sermon illustrations and conversations focus on the hardships of being a pastor. Sure, there are difficulties — every job has difficulties. Preach and talk about the greatness of serving the church.
- Preach about the reality of a call to Christian ministry — there is no doubt that we want all believers to find ways to serve the Lord in their vocation. However, there is a unique calling for those who are God’s gifts to the church (Eph 4) and equip the saints for the ministry. Preach it and expect results.
- Call out the Called — make room in your sermon and conversations to appeal to young men to respond to God’s call in their lives. Include this in your invitations and the conclusions to your Bible Studies.
- Make Room to Mentor — We are all busy. We want to change the world. I encourage you to take the long view. Look at the eternal and global impact you can have when you raise up your replacements.
- Pray for God to call pastors, Christian workers, missionaries out of your church — The Bible says, “you have not, because you ask not.” Start asking. This world is in desperate need of those who hear and courageously respond to God’s calling to serve the church.
- W.A. Criswell, wrote in Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors, “The first and foremost of all inward strengths of the pastor is the conviction, deep as life itself, that God has called him to the ministry. If this persuasion is unshakable, all other elements of the pastor’s life will fall into beautiful order.”
- William Williamson wrote: “Ministry is not a profession. It is a vocation . . . One must be called to do it. Although pastors may struggle with exactly what it means to be called by God to lead a church, they must have some sense that they are in ministry because God wants them to be. Time and again, amid the challenges of pastoral ministry, this divine, more-than-subjective authorization is a major means of pastoral preservation.”
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said: “I count it the highest honor that God can confer on any man to call him to be a herald of the gospel.”
Our challenge to you today is: Will you Call out the Called?
If you are interested in learning more about this ministry and important mission, join us April 20 for a luncheon and discussion on the topic of helping your church members hear God’s call.
Scott Hildreth is the director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies. He frequently speaks on issues of missions, spiritual formation, missiology, and theology. Scott also contributes to SEBTS faculty blog www.betweenthetimes.com