Every year, as we host West Coast Baptist Youth Conference, we have several top prayer requests. One of these is to see young people called by God into full time Christian service.
I know that God has a plan for every life and that His plan is not for every young man to become a preacher. But it is for some. Thus, we encourage surrender to whatever God’s call may be and ask the Lord to use the preaching of His Word to speak to individual hearts according to His will.
And He does. During the 2015 WCBC Youth Conference this week, scores of young people made a decision to surrender to answer God’s call in whatever capacity it may be. And throughout the conference, I was blessed by seeing tweets of WCBC alumni who are now in the ministry, posting about the conference and sharing that they were called to preach at youth conference in previous years. Praise God!
Youth Conference aside, every pastor longs to see young men and women of the next generation serving the Lord in the ministry. What are the elements involved in that taking place? Why do some churches regularly see God calling teenagers and then those teens being trained and serving in ministry as young adults, but other churches never (or rarely) do?
There are many dynamics to these questions, but below are five that I believe are vital. When these five are present, teens are called to minister:
1. When the Holy Ghost speaks
This is vital. We must start here, for pastor-called preachers are not necessarily Holy Ghost-called preachers.
In Acts 13 we see that it was the Holy Ghost who said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). There was the clear hand of God and voice of the Holy Spirit.
We can also notice from this passage that those called by God were already serving the Lord and sincerely seeking Him. It was “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted” that the Holy Ghost called.
I’m reminded of a statement by missionary Isobel Kuhn: “I believe that in each generation God has called enough men and women to evangelize all the yet unreached….It is not God who does not call. It is man who will not respond.”
We need to consider the very real possibility that the Holy Spirit may not be “calling” because our young people are either not listening or not willing to respond.
The next four points really tie into this one in that they highlight what helps our young people listen for, hear, and respond to the Holy Spirit’s call.
2. When pastors model joy
Think of someone you know who hates his job. Every time you see him, he talks about the long hours, low pay, no family time, heavy workload…and there you have a description of the way some pastors speak of the ministry!
No wonder young people say, “Ummm…not for me.”
I’m not saying the ministry is a cake walk, but the truth is, when my heart is right with the Lord, it is a joy to serve Him and His people. I love the ministry!
The Apostle Paul modeled joy—even in tremendously difficult times. In Acts 20:24 he could look the Ephesian church leaders in the eye and say, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
No wonder at the end of Paul’s ministry he had a legacy of young men who had surrendered to the ministry and were actively serving God in local church leadership. They had seen in Paul that the ministry is a joy.
3. When church is about God
I’m concerned that one of the reasons teens aren’t called to ministry is because even at church, there is so much worldliness that hearing the voice of God is unlikely. I’m concerned that churches with hyped up music and not much emphasis on preaching train young people that hearing from God is more about an emotional experience at church than it is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts through the preaching of His Word.
If teens can’t hear the voice of God at church, where will they hear it? If our church services are built on fun activities and worldly music, where do teens go to worship God? Where will they dedicate their lives to Him?
4. When youth groups have an others mindset
Our culture has convinced young people that fulfillment in life comes from personal gratification. But a saved young person who experiences the joy of serving isn’t as easily fooled.
If our youth programs are all centered on having fun, teens are less likely to have a desire to invest their lives in serving the Lord and others.
We do have fun activities. (After all, youth should be an enjoyable season of life.) But we also try to develop an others mindset through soulwinning, widow visits, serving in church ministries, and serving in the community.
5. When teens have a personal walk with God
It’s hard to listen to a voice you don’t recognize. This is why it is vital that young people learn to hear God’s voice through His Word and to develop a personal walk with God.
If a teenager expects that God’s direction for his life is going to randomly strike through an emotional high during a worship service, he’s not as likely to see the need for a day-by-day walk of obedience with an ear tuned for the Holy Spirit’s voice.
Is God still calling young men and women for the work of the ministry? I believe He is—or at least that He is willing to. But if we want our young people to hear and respond to that call, we must minister to them in such a way that they are eager and trained to hear God’s voice.