By Ray Van Neste
Dean and professor of Biblical studies, Union University, Jackson
This spring my pastoral ministry class at Union University was (as always) a joy to teach because of my students, diligent young men who sense God’s call to ministry.
Following the syllabus, they read several books from previous eras. These older books expand their horizons and introduce them to issues we often miss today.
Over the years, I’ve seen a pattern in the points that students address in their reading responses. But this year I was surprised while discussing John Angell James’s classic, An Earnest Ministry (1847).
Students usually resonate with James’s deep evangelistic zeal. That occurred this year too, but all of them were struck by something that I have passed by repeatedly.
James urges pastors to be on the lookout for serious young men who might be called to pastoral ministry.
This notion didn’t seem extraordinary to me since this was a key part of my own experience. Growing up in First Baptist Church, Millington, God used encouraging comments from adults in the church to nudge me towards recognition of a call to ministry. Teachers, youth workers, other adults, and my pastor, Ray Newcomb, were so persistent that God showed me that I was resisting His call.
However, these young men in my class said that none of them had someone in their church encourage them to consider a life of ministry before they told the church about their calling themselves. None of them!
Most of us have seen reports that fewer young people are responding to ministerial callings. The reasons for this decline are no doubt varied and complex.
How should the people of God respond to this? One thing we must do: we must encourage our young people. Of course, we are not the Holy Spirit, and we shouldn’t tell people they are called to the ministry (that makes for an entirely different problem). Such calling is the work of God. But, just as in evangelism, God uses His people to accomplish His will in the world.
We don’t know if God is calling a fellow believer to vocational ministry, but we can let them know that we see God using them.
Perhaps, in addition to spiritual maturity, we see teaching and preaching gifts, or we see leadership skills, or a particular care for others, or a heart for the nations.
We hope this is true of all believers, but some of these young people are possibly called to ministry. We can encourage them by letting them know we see these things in their lives, and we can ask them if they’ve considered that God might be calling them to ministry. No pressure. No claim to supernatural knowledge of their future. Just caring conversation, helping them think about possibilities.
And, while pastors ought to be involved in this work, it is by no means limited to them. This is part of being the church — recognizing the grace of God at work in each other, asking how we might pray, asking if they’ve thought about what the Lord might be doing in their lives.
So, notice the young people around you. They could all use your encouragement anyway. Who knows how God might use you in their lives? I know I am deeply grateful for so many who encouraged me at FBC, Millington, years ago. B&R — Van Neste also serves as interim pastor at First Baptist Church, Jackson.