The Call to the Ministry: Did Your Phone Ring?

This article originally appeared in an old blog of mine that no longer exists. The original post has been edited for style and relevance.

Summer is coming to an end, the youth conference season is closing, and new college recruits are packing out their Hondas and heading off to train for the ministry.

I always reminisce this time of year. Recently, my mind traveled back to a day in college long ago. I was a freshman. One morning, one of my instructors told us plainly in class, “Only 1 out of 10 of you preacher-boys will be in the ministry 10 years from now. That’s the statistics.

He let it sink in for a moment before asking, “I wonder…who will it be?

I wondered the same thing. I remember hoping that I would not be like the other 9. I wanted to be the one that stuck to it, and by the grace of God (and only His grace!) I have.

I do not know if that statistic is accurate, but I do know that the attrition rate for IFB preachers is probably higher than it should be. Many of my compatriot preachers have fallen by the wayside discouraged, broken, or just too busy with real life to devote themselves to pulpit ministry. It seems that so many that were in the pulpit are now out. Why? My guess is perhaps they were never really called by God to the ministry in the first place.

Maybe I sound too judgmental, but I’ve heard the very same confession from former preachers. “I was really never called of God. The ministry was my choice, not God’s,” they lament. Some sneer bitterly and allege that they were pressured into joining the ministry.

Many preachers degrade these men as “momma called, papa sent” – perhaps some are. But I believe we can lay the lion’s share of the blame for the non-called preacher phenomenon at the feet of many preachers – not at the feet of overzealous moms and dads.

To put it bluntly, we do a lousy job of recruiting new preachers. That is the rub – we are recruiting them instead of God recruiting them.

Some youth conferences do the same thing that the military does to recruit: they make the lifestyle seem exciting, fulfilling (on a fleshly level), and cool. We appeal to the young man’s sense of duty and patriotism – we tell him he is needed to “save America.”

What works for the military does not work for the ministry.

A young man can join the Navy to see the world and after four years (of seeing nothing but the inside of a submarine) he can punch out with no harm done. He even has money for college! But a preacher doesn’t have the same honorable discharge privilege. He may leave after four years, but he almost always leaves broken, discouraged, and disillusioned – and often labeled a quitter.

Most of this irresponsible recruiting takes place at youth conferences. I don’t know how many IFB preacher boys I have met over the years that say they were called to preach at some youth conference or pastors’ school somewhere. This troubles me because it is so easy for impressionable young boys to be swayed to join the ministry by a sharp-looking, masculine, eloquent megachurch pastor who delivers 50 minutes of edge-of-the-seat sermon excitement.

The vast audience, the impressive ministry size, the perceived success, the powerful presence of the preacher, and the thousand-voice strong amen section are just too enticing for a 7th-grade boy. By the time the invitation starts, the gobsmacked young man is asking “where do I join?”

And then he makes the fateful decision. A card is filled out, and his decision is made public when his name is announced to the excited crowd.

The next 10-15 years of his life have already been determined: he will finish high school, go to such-and-such Bible college, and then falter in the ministry for 3-5 years before finally throwing in the towel. By that time he’ll probably have a wife and a few kids with which to start his life over.

Sometimes such men can roll with the punches. They have a sold foundation of faith and they continue to happily serve in their local church, though it is not in the pulpit. But others never recover from their disillusionment. Many grow bitter at God and church. Not a few apostatize completely, and their once gospel-laden voices now scream blasphemies and rage.

I thank God for my call to the ministry. I am not proud of it, but I am thankful for it. It is a very sacred event to me. I also am glad that it was not a hasty decision I made as a prepubescent boy. It was a long process of praying, fasting, searching, asking, seeking counsel from godly mentors, and even some Jonah-like running that spanned about 6 months. And then I surrendered to the call. It wasn’t in some big, hyped-up conference; it was in the privacy of prayer.

I am not saying that ALL conference decisions to join the ministry are illegitimate. I’m sure many are legitimate. I’m sure many have searched for God’s will weeks or months prior to a conference, and then surrendered in the conference. I know many who are firm, committed, godly pastors who surrendered to preach in a conference setting. But I think the high-pressure tactics and emotional pleas for boys to “join up” right then and there do more harm than good.

It’s not even the conferences that are the problem – or the camps, or the revivals, or any such protracted preaching event – it is the way in which such decisions are solicited. We must, as preachers, be careful that we give young Christian men a realistic view of ministry. The kewl youth pastor who rides atop a Harley down the center aisle of the sanctuary, bedecked like a fundamentalist Fonzie, greeted by the screaming cheers of a thousand teenage girls, is not presenting a realistic view of the ministry.

If there is one thing I know, I know that God called me into the ministry. And if there is one thing that keeps me from quitting, other than the support of my fabulous helpmeet, it is knowing that God wants me doing what I am doing.

No matter how bleak ministerial life seems, no matter how frustrated I become, no matter how disappointing the results can be, no matter how lonely I may feel, I can look towards heaven and say, “Since this is your will, I can continue on. Not my will, but thine be done.”

I fear we rob young preacher boys of that sweet assurance when we press for recruits in unwise or carnal ways. Yes, let us preach the need for preachers. Yes, let us plead for young men to seek God’s face regarding the ministry. But then let them search Him out. Let them wrestle with the angel all night. Let them feel the genuine, divine touch of God in their heart. Let them know that they have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to preach.

May their testimony be that of Paul’s:

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” I Timothy 1:12.

When one day they stand behind their pulpits, they need to know that God has put them there.

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