FIRST-PERSON: Calling out the called

by Scott Hildreth, posted Monday, March 27, 2017 (one month ago)

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- About 30 years ago, a wise pastor and a group of church leaders made a decision that quite literally changed my life and the lives of tens of thousands of others.

As I understand it (I wasn't there), the pastor believed that internal and external forces limited the church's growth potential. The church was not small but it would probably never become a mega-church. So, instead of focusing all their energies on growing a big church, they decided to ask God to raise up young men who would respond to His call to vocational ministry.

The church invested time and resources in this vision. They gave pulpit time to young men who felt called to preach. The pastor made time in his schedule to mentor any young man who responded to this call. I doubt the church imagined the eternal impact of that decision.

Over the next several years, dozens of us heard God's call. We responded to sermons and personal communication. We walked down the aisles of youth services, church services and revival services. We mentored each other and spent time with our pastor, traveling evangelists and even denominational leaders.

We preached sermons that were much too long. We preached sermons that were too short. We preached sermons that were borderline heretical. We learned from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.

Along the way, we all grew up and we spread out. The ministry of that pastor and church has influenced dozens of churches, big and small, as we served on staff and as lead pastors. Their ministry extended to evangelism crusades, into closed countries and into seminary classrooms. Theirs is a legacy of tens of thousands coming to Christ and growing in Christ.

All because of a simple decision to "call out the called" -- a decision to value the impact a preacher, a missionary, a church staff member or any Christian minister can have on the Kingdom of God.

I tell this story because, to be frank, I don't hear many like it anymore. It has been a long time since I heard a pastor call for young men to join him in Christian ministry.

Sure, we appeal for missionaries to go to unreached people or for church planters to go to a big city. But where is the passionate appeal from the pulpit for people to hear to the call of God and respond to His leadership into vocational ministry?

Thus, I am begging pastors and student pastors to pray for God to call your people into ministry. It is also an appeal for pastors to make time in their sermons and schedules to call out the called. Christianity Today released a statistic several weeks ago showing that only one out of seven senior pastors are under 40. I wonder if it is because we have stopped making appeals for people to respond to God's call to ministry.

Here are a few important points for any pastor who is willing to accept this challenge:

1. Highlight the benefits of Christian ministry.

Too many sermon illustrations and conversations focus on the hardships of being a pastor. Sure, there are difficulties -- every job has difficulties. Preach and talk about the greatness of serving the church.

2. Preach about the reality of a call to Christian ministry.

To be sure, we want all believers to find ways to serve the Lord through their secular vocation. However, there is a unique calling for those who are God's gifts to the church (Ephesians 4) for equipping the saints for the ministry. Preach it and expect results.

3. Call out the called.

Make room in your sermon and conversations. Appeal to young men to respond to God's call in their lives. Include this in your invitations and the conclusions to your Bible studies.

4. Make room to mentor.

We are all busy. We want to change the world. I encourage you to take the long view. Look at the eternal and global impact you can have when you raise up your replacements.

5. Pray for God to call pastors, Christian workers, missionaries out of your church.

The Bible says that "you have not, because you ask not." Start asking. This world is in desperate need of those who hear and courageously respond to God's calling to serve the church.

The challenge to you today is: Will you call out the called?

Scott Hildreth is assistant professor of global studies and director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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