How are contemporary churches helping youth develop a sense of vocation for their lives? In reality, an honest response to the question would likely be: “It is not a question of how? We are not even addressing the question?”

Vocation has a rich tradition in the history of the Christian community. Clearly the Bible centers vocation in the call of God to make a difference in the life of the individual and the faith community of which one is a part.

In the history of the church prior to the Reformation, vocation was narrowly defined as a province of the clergy only. One significant impact of the Reformation was to shift the church’s attention to the everyday activity of ordinary Christians.

Whatever they did in the world to make a living was their vocation if it was honest and honorable. But where does that leave the clergy?

Protestants generally resolved the dualism by emphasizing two kinds of calling. The general call was the call to all emphasized in the priesthood of the believer. The particular call was the call to some to devote themselves to the work of leadership in the church as a vocation.

We need a renewal of attention to a theology of calling, and it ought to begin with the youth of our churches.

Every Christian has a calling—to follow Christ in all arenas of life. In a recent book for youth Call Waiting, Kay Wilson Shurden and I develop a view of calling includes the following:

— Calling is something all Christians share but that each of us has in a special way.
— Call begins with an awareness of God.
— Discovering one’s calling is grounded in a lifetime of getting to know God.
— God calls all people, regardless of past history, limitations, or situations.
— Call is an invitation.
— Uncovering God’s call requires getting to know yourself.
— Finding your call begins with the biggest “Yes!” of your life.
— Call is to partnership with God for the kingdom.
— Call is discovered and lived out in the local church.
— Your call’s home address is the intersection of God’s kingdom, your passions, and the world’s pain.
— Fulfilling the call for youth requires embracing adolescence.
— Call unfolds over a lifetime as we walk through life

Calling is intensely personal. In the same way God called Moses by name at the burning bush (Ex. 3: 1-11), we need to emphasize the importance of every young person coming face-to-face with the opportunity of partnership in kingdom service.

Several years ago I participated in a survey of several hundred pastors and laity who were asked about the meaning of quality ministry. One of the questions asked of pastors was how they would react if one of their children were to demonstrate interest in vocational ministry. Not too surprising, only a small minority of pastors would have been supportive and encouraging.

The leadership crises facing the church are due in part to the failures of the church to be the community intended by God. Maybe the negativity toward leadership in the church is a function of an inadequate sense of the calling of what the church is to be and do in our world among its members.

There once was a practice in Baptist life we called “calling out the called.” If we have a biblical view of vocation, that is a call that is extended to all as an invitation to participate with God in every dimension of kingdom action needed in our world today.

If that were to happen, we could also rejoice when one of our own hears the invitation to partnership as a pastor, staff member or missionary whose call is to leadership as a full time worker in the kingdom vineyard.

So why not recover an old practice with a new focus and understanding?

Larry McSwain is professor of ethics and leadership at McAfee School of Theology.

Click here to purchase Call Waiting from Judson Press.

Youth leaders may receive a free copy of Call Waiting as long as supplies last by sending name and address to

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