I remember when I was young in ministry, how exciting it was for me when a young person felt called to the full-time ministry. I remember championing him or her. I remember helping to find a good Bible College for a prospective pastor or missionary to attend. I remember feeling somehow that I needed to "invest" more time in these students so they could figure out what ministry was all about. I remember being so excited. Not so much anymore.
The phrase, “Many are called but few are chosen” comes to mind. I have seen many students start on this road and go careening off of it not long after. I’ve seen this process leave them confused and sometimes resentful of the church. That takes the excitement out of it a bit for me.
I want students to listen closely to God’s call on their lives. I think that’s very important. I also think that’s the point. We need to be helping students listen closely to God’s call on his or her life. I think there was a time when I got so excited that a student would be interested in ministry that I might have done more harm than good. I may have moved them toward a decision that they weren’t equipped to make.
For me, the call is so real. I have no doubt that God has called me to a lifetime of service. I think that may skew my perceptive a bit. What I mean is that the call of God in my life is such a part of who I am that I sometimes have a hard time understanding why anybody would want to do anything else. I get excited to hear that anyone would consider doing what I do.
What I’ve discovered though is that often, in my haste, I didn’t give the best counsel to those sensing a call. I immediately started trying to "prepare" them for ministry. I didn’t really give the Holy Spirit time to work on them and help them understand what he was calling them to do. I would then mourn when I saw a student crash and burn as they began to pursue the call. I would be disappointed in them that they didn’t tough it out. I would feel a sense of failure myself.
But now, when a student comes to me sensing God’s call, I proceed with more trepidation. I still get excited but I want the student to take time to really consider what they are undertaking. Ministry is not easy. Ministers are held to a higher standard. There is a lot of stress and pressure. Although I can dream of nothing else that I would rather do with my life, ministry is not for everyone.
I try to find a middle ground in my counsel. I walk beside the student encouraging them to seek out ministry options. I ask them what they thought they wanted to do before this call. I ask them if there was an event or a moment in time where they first felt this calling. I ask them to get involved in doing ministry right now. I ask them to take time and pray. I warn them not to make a hasty decision. I invite them to spend time with me doing ministry and see what day-to-day ministry looks like up close. I pray for them.
In my 20 years of ministry there have been many students who have come to me sensing that God may want them in full-time service. Most of them move on to other things. A few have answered that call and are working hard in ministry right now. I pray that with age has come the wisdom to remind students that God calls Christians to be godly teachers, plumbers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, and all the other career choices out there. I pray that God would help me to guide students through listening to his voice and help them to determine how he can use them in ministry.