The subject of “calling out the called” is nothing new, but many observers are feeling a new urgency about it. Recent statistics are lacking, but an Alban Institute study in 2000 showed that in several mainline denominational groups, the percentage of clergy under 35 had dropped well under 10 percent. Among Baptists other than the Southern Baptist Convention, the number was about six percent, George Mason told participants at the “Creating a Culture of Call” conference at Campbell University Divinity School Oct. 17.
Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, was the keynote speaker for the conference, which was sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship‘s “Pastor and Scholars Studio,” funded by the Lilly Endowment.
Wilshire said many churches have “done a great job of looking like the last place young people want to land,” he said, pointing to a variety of ways in which churches or parents discourage young people from considering vocational ministry. Instead, Wilshire said, churches and parents should find ways to encourage young people to find their calling, whether it is in vocational ministry or in other areas.
Mason said churches that effectively nurture a sense of call are healthy congregations whose ministers love the work and pay attention to young people, whose parents encourage children to consider ministry as an option, and who use rituals such as baby dedications or baptism to emphasize the calling that all people have to serve God.
A panel of four ministers talked about ways they have sought to nurture a sense of call in young people.
Greg Rogers, pastor of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, NC, near East Carolina University, said his church offers annual spiritual retreats, because “a good spiritual foundation is at the core of calling.” Young people learn and practice worship leadership by helping to plan and conduct their own Wednesday night service, he said. And, he added, the church has recently bought a cluster of apartments that he hopes will become an intentional community for college students in which a sense of call can be fostered.
Rhonda Gailes. minister of education and families at First Baptist in Blowing Rock, near Appalachian State University, described an internship program in which four college students work with the church each year as a way of exploring their gifts and being mentored. Youth are included on all church committees and assist as ushers and in other ways, she said: “We want students to learn early that it’s not all about them, but service is important.”
Mari Wiles is minister to the univeristy and instructor of religion at Chowan University in Murfreesboro. She spoke of how she and others on campus constantly seek to build relationships with young people who could be potential leaders in the church. “We try to constantly model authentic relationships between believers and seekers or even adamant unbelievers,” she said, building friendships that can develop into deeper relationships.
Carl Brinkley, pastor of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville, said he keeps an eye out for people who show an interest in ministry, and invites them to participate in a minister’s training class where he encourages them to adopt a “biblical mentor” like Moses or Joshua to study and learn from.
Mason reminded participants that churches and ministers have a responsibility not only to help identify and nurture prospective ministers, but to help them get started. “We need to build a launch pad for ministry and then help them launch,” he said, emphasizing the importance of building networks and using influence to help new ministers find places of service. “We have to create a conspiracy in their favor and matchmake for the sake of the kingdom,” he concluded, a work that is “rich and challenging and rewarding.”
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.