There are a number of ways to serve Christ in our complex world. That's why I’m excited to be part of an event at Houston Baptist University February 2019, aimed at high school students discerning a call to ministry.
I may be one of the best examples of a person with a clear calling to vocational ministry that doesn’t fit into a conventional category of pastor/minister/missionary, and this conference at HBU will expose high school students to the broad horizon that is gospel ministry. I hope that you will consider helping me spread the word.
Answering a Question Fewer Are Asking
Altar calls. If you’re of a certain generation and you attended a Southern Baptist church growing up, you probably heard an altar call at the end of each week’s sermon. It likely sounded very similar to most other Southern Baptist altar calls in the country. The pastor would incorporate four components, asking the congregation to come forward if they felt God calling them in any of the following areas: accepting Christ as Savior for the first time and coming to be baptized, rededicating one’s life to Christ, joining that fellowship as a member of the church, and feeling called to vocational gospel ministry.
By and large, those kinds of altar calls just are fewer these days. I attend plenty of churches that give the first three parts of the old altar call, but as far as calling out to those feeling God leading them to vocational Christian ministry, I just don’t hear it that much anymore.
Asking Someone About Calling
I’m not bemoaning the loss of old altar calls. I like to think that I’m still young enough to not bemoan the loss of older things yet. And frankly, it doesn’t really matter to me what the altar call sounds like. If your church is inviting people to know and follow Jesus and to be part of a discipling community, then the form by which it does that should relate best to your context.
However, I think we also need a renewed focus on encouraging people to pray about whether or not God is sending them out into a vocational ministry.
I never answered an altar call to enter Christian ministry. To be honest, it was a series of people and events over a nine month span in college that led me to the firm conviction that God was leading me into vocational ministry. I was asked to teach a college Bible study once. Then, I was asked to lead a small group for a semester. I was asked over dinner if my major was religion. A college minister asked if I had ever considered a career in the ministry.
All of these things and many more culminated in me resigning from the ROTC scholarship I had earned just a semester earlier, turning in my uniform, surrendering my career dreams and plans, and saying “yes” to the Lord’s leading. For me, that meant transferring schools, changing majors, and waiting to see what would come next.
You Answered the Call And Left
Many readers of this blog are in vocational ministry. Which means at some point, you answered the call in some way. Maybe it was an altar call and you went forward. Maybe you felt the call early and prepared throughout college and seminary. Regardless of how you got in, you now belong to a fraternity of those who are sent out to fulfill a specific calling.
I frame it as “sent out” not only to borrow Jesus' words towards his disciples (John 17:18, 20:21) but also to underscore a point. Those who answer the call don’t usually stay where they are to execute that calling. When someone feels called to international missions, it is assumed that they are packing their bags soon if not right then.
In the healthiest circumstances, churches help affirm the calling of those in their midst who feel that God is leading them to the vocational ministry. They commission them, sending them into the world on behalf of that fellowship to do the Lord’s work.
In essence, they are the ones celebrating that God has called someone out of their midst.
Calling the Callers
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a typo. He meant, ‘Calling the Called.” That is what I meant, but I wrote it that way to make a point. If the work of vocational ministers is to equip workers for ministry (Eph. 4:12), then the called must also be callers. We must be reaching out to the next wave of those who are called and equipping them to also be callers.
I understand the fear. I work with churches every day, and some are just plain scared to develop leaders for fear that those leaders will seek leadership opportunities elsewhere. I see churches that want to develop good Sunday school teachers for their own ministries but not preachers for fear that they will lose their best teachers to other churches’ pulpits.
A lot has been written by great writers about the enormity of the Great Commission in our world today and how to transform our churches into multiplicative, sending factories of dedicated disciples willing to go and make disciples.
If you haven’t read J.D. Greear’s book, “Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send,” make it the next book you read. In in, he details his church’s journey toward becoming a sending church. He writes, “Sending out leaders creates more leaders. What you send out inevitably comes back to you in multiplied form.”
Beyond the persuasive missional arguments, I would make a personal argument to those of you who are in vocational ministry. At some point in your past, someone was used by God to help you understand your calling. Someone preached a sermon, challenged you, asked you a question, or dared you to pray.
There may have been others in your church thinking that ministers and missionaries come from other churches, and yet there you were. Don’t you want to be the person who extends the challenge just as someone once did for you?
Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.