by Clay Smith, Pastor, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church
Where have all the pastors gone? That question was recently asked of me by a local church pulpit search committee looking for names.
I had no good answers.
In fact, I regularly hear that we have a shortfall of Kingdom leaders to fill pulpits, ministry positions, and missionary platforms. Many pastors I know struggle to find capable candidates to fill open staff positions and leaders to plant new churches.
This begs the question, “Has God stopped calling people to vocational ministry? Is God’s voice silent?”
The answer is no. God is calling.
But are we helping?
Are we calling out the called?
Are we giving people a vision for a life vocationally surrendered to God?
Are we praying for laborers to go into the harvest?
Are we setting aside times in our worship services to ask people to pray about where God is calling them to go?
Are we creating intentional pathways to raise up a future generation of Kingdom leaders?
Perhaps we are a blaming our seeming “vacancies” on God rather than owning up to our part in creating an environment for people to see the indescribable joy of serving Jesus, no matter the cost.
I remember my call to ministry. I gave my life to Jesus at the age of ten but grew up with several periods of inconsistency in following Him. When I went to college, I spent more time in a bar than I did the library and certainly more time than I did in a church.
Yet, as He so often does, God used my disobedience to help me to see His prevailing goodness and grace. Through some intentional discipling relationships, and a lot of repentance, I began to walk with Jesus in my senior year.
Two years after college, I was working my first “real job” for our state’s Lt. Governor. The church in which I grew up asked me if I would give leadership to a weekly student gathering. I quickly said yes and then experienced the strangest thing.
Instead of thinking about my job, I would very often think of the ministry. I would think of teaching the Bible, the discipleship of students, and the joy of serving God’s people in a local church. I would envision a life of shepherding people and bringing them the hope of Jesus.
After six months of growing anxiety, I was able to articulate the central question that framed what God seemed to be doing. “Was I called to ministry?”
I spent the next six months praying through this while also asking questions to pastors and trusted friends. My fiancée (now wife) had gotten engaged to a would-be attorney.
Why in the world would she want to marry a would-be preacher?
What did pastors do, after all?
What about the “junk” in my life?
How might God use me?
These questions had been swirling in my heart and mind.
One Sunday morning, my pastor concluded his message by asking if anyone needed prayer about surrendering to God’s call on their life. It was as if timed stopped and I heard the voice of God. I knew what God was calling me to do.
I grabbed my fiancée’s hand and walked to the front of the room. I told the pastor that I sensed a call to ministry but had no idea what that looked like or what God wanted me to do. But I knew I was called!
Twenty-three years have passed since that Sunday, and I’m still serving the Lord. God has equipped me through seminary, mentors, ministry positions, failures, and various experiences. And I’m so grateful for a church and a pastor that simply asked me to say “yes” to Jesus, no matter what.
As I reflect on both the cost and the joy of ministry, I offer the following ten thoughts of what the Church might consider doing to “call out the called:”
- Don’t sugarcoat the calling. It’s tough. There’s a price-tag to ministry, but Jesus is worth it.
- Use historical illustrations of people who paid a great price to do great things for God. I recently spent a good portion of a sermon talking about the martyrdom of Jim Elliott. I had several students, though never having heard of him, spoke of how his life encouraged them.
- Be accessible to those whom are wrestling with a call. I’m so grateful for the pastors that gave me much of their time to process my questions, doubts, and fears.
- Set aside strategic Sundays to call out the called. You don’t have to do it every week, but circle 4 or 5 Sundays a year to ask people to make a commitment.
- Start with your kids’ ministry. We make a huge mistake if we wait until they are in their twenties to process a call. Start talking and teaching about it when they are young.
- Create leadership opportunities for kids and students. Sifting out young leaders is a great way to create a pool of future leaders and servants.
- Encourage parents. One of the dirty little secrets of missions is that well-meaning, but misguided, Christian parents often discourage their children from going to the mission field. As an older missionary friend once told me, “It is much easier to go than to let someone go.”
- Lead with hope. Ministry can be tough, but it’s an incredible privilege. Talk publicly about the joy of serving Jesus. We get to do this.
- Challenge your adults. I believe God is calling many empty-nesters to embrace a call to serve Him – in some specific way – as they enter a new season of life. Age is irrelevant. After all, Moses got started when he was 80.
- Remember your own call. Odds are whatever was helpful for you will be helpful for others. Remember the process God used to call you and do that with someone else.
Published February 6, 2024