As I mentioned in my blog for last week, my “call story” to ministry was published in a collection of other such stories designed to encourage churches and individuals in hearing and responding to God’s call. Edited by Barry Howard, former pastor of Brookwood Baptist and First Baptist, Pensacola, Florida, the book is available on Amazon, either in paperback or Kindle. What follows is my call story:
I am a child of the church. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t being nurtured by some local congregation of Christians – a gift that continues to this present day.
My faith journey began at the First Baptist Church of Chickasaw, Alabama, a bedroom community of Mobile. FBC/Chickasaw was a large church that offered every children’s ministry imaginable, all of which I enthusiastically attended. Those ministry activities gave me opportunity not only to learn of Christ’s love for me but also of his purpose for me, a purpose which though not confined to vocational ministry, certainly was held up in that church as a distinct possibility to which every believer should be open. Even in those early years I took that invitation most seriously so that the fulfillment I felt as a child immersed in church activities moved me to consider a future in congregational ministry work as the most natural and exhilarating future I could know.
When my parents moved to small-town West Alabama, I was fortunate to find in my new community in a similarly encouraging local church that offered opportunities for me to continue to explore God’s call upon my life. My new church, York Baptist Church, invested heavily in youth ministry and I reaped the spiritual dividends from that investment. While the awkwardness of adolescence certainly factored into my understanding of God’s call and I wasn’t fully certain of much of anything during that season of life, except my commitment to Christ, my church’s patient love and support kept the prodding of the Spirit alive in my soul.
It was my college experience that solidified my understanding of God’s call to vocational ministry. In college I found other students at the local Baptist Student Union who were seeking clarity in the same ways as I. Moreover, my college church, the University Baptist Church of Montevallo, Alabama, gave me space not only to grow in my worship life, but also to process my questions about faith’s intersection with higher learning, which expanded my understanding of where God’s call to ministry might actually take me.
In particular, an opportunity that came my way the summer of my freshman year in college enabled me to put my faith to the test. During a break on a BSU ministry trip, my college pastor stepped on the bus as we were about to head out and made an announcement that would change my life. He had just received a call from a pastor friend of his whose church was looking for a college student to be their summer youth minister. It was a ten-week commitment to guide a group of high school students in the same way that a college student had guided me during my high school years. As the pastor invited us to speak with him if we felt any interest in the position, I sensed the Spirit nudging me to look into that opportunity as a way to see if I had the gifts and abilities to serve in such a way.
That summer with the First Baptist Church of Vernon, Alabama, was all of the confirmation I needed as to God’s call to vocational ministry. The joy I felt that summer in helping young people draw nearer to Jesus, many of whom were not that much older than I, gave me a deep confidence that doing this type of work was God’s purpose for me in my life. I returned to college that fall with a clear direction for which I needed to prepare. From that time on, I looked for every opportunity to sharpen my skills and soften my heart so that I might be able to be used for Christ’s cause to the best of my ability.
The thread that runs through my story is the nurturing power of the local church and its ability to create a culture where the conditions for the Spirit’s call are a part of everything the church does. I would not be where I am today if it were not for those grace-filled congregations that awakened, developed, and strengthened my faith. In each congregation there were of course individuals who stand out in my experience because of how they saw ministry possibilities in me that I would never have seen in myself. But beyond those persons, there was the larger community that simply went about their mission in quiet but steady faithfulness so that the Spirit had room to touch my heart as only the Spirit could do.
Those who read my story may be alert and sensitive to God’s hand on some young man or woman in their churches and have as well the gift of encouraging those young persons to consider the possibility of vocational ministry. If so, please take the time to broach such a possibility with them. It will be the best action you could take for them, for you, for your church, and of course for the cause of Christ.
For everyone else who is a part of a local congregation, simply know that what your church does week in and week out, in both its worship and service, are vehicles for the Holy Spirit to do his calling work. In the rhythms of church life God’s call is often discerned. So, go about your place in your church with enthusiasm and joy so that you may contribute to a culture of call where the local congregation becomes the nurturing influence that all of my churches were for me. Rest assured, that some young person in your life will be better for your having done so, and at the end of the day, so will the Kingdom of God.
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle” (1 Timothy 2:5-7).
You can click on this link to go to Amazon and purchase the book: