READ THE SIDEBAR: “Answering the Call”
By Andy Hansen
It happens every day. Sometimes several times during the day.
The phone rings. The request is consistently the same, and always urgent. The phone calls come from rural areas, urban areas, and from churches—small, medium, large, and “mega.”
Churches that are growing, churches that are stagnant, churches both established and recently planted. All kinds of churches call.
Churches meeting in traditional buildings, churches meeting in shopping plazas and movie theaters. Churches from every region throughout the country.
These calls are made by ministers, associate ministers, friends of Christ In Youth, and those who have just heard about this ministry, with its contact to so many youth and children’s ministers and Bible college students.
They all hope the same thing, that well, we may “know of someone . . .”
WHY THEY CALL
The need? Youth ministers, high school and/or junior high youth ministers, children’s ministers, worship leaders, video technicians, etc. The calls continue to come. Every day. Often several times during the day. Though more than 1,000 students each year for five years running have made public commitments to pursue careers in vocational ministry during our Christ In Youth summer events, the calls continue to come in. Churches are desperate for any lead.
With training seminars, trips to Christian colleges, and classes offered (even minors and majors) in youth ministry, children’s ministry, Christian education, worship ministry, and video technology, many are trying to help. Yet the need is more urgent than ever.
Perhaps it is due to the growth of the church. During the emergence of youth ministry in the late 1960s/early ’70s, the thought of a full-time children’s minister in addition to the youth minister was almost unheard of. Compare that with today when many congregations, not just the megas, have a team of two to six “specialty” full-time ministry staff—preschool, children, preteen, junior high, high school, worship, video or “creative arts,” etc. This does not include associates and assistants. Certainly some of these are “homegrown,” but often the specialists are sought and courted from the outside.
Consider also the churches being planted by Orchard Group, Stadia, Nexus, and other church-planting organizations. Add to that the satellites, plants, and extended campuses being started by dozens, if not hundreds, of local churches. The estimates of church plants in the next 25 years is ever increasing and staggering in number.
This is exciting for the kingdom, but the reality is challenging. Who will fill the pulpits and provide the specialized ministry for all of these plants, let alone serve the already established churches?
This need for vocational ministry is on the minds and hearts of church leaders (ministers and elders) as well as those actively involved with students (youth ministers, youth workers, parents, etc.).
HOW WE CAN ANSWER
I recently conducted a poll of 250 youth ministers and asked them to respond to three questions. The answers provide some useful insight on how one might effectively recruit vocational leaders.
Question 1: At what age did you sense a clear decision, calling, commitment to enter vocational ministry?
Sixty-three percent of those polled said it occurred during their late teenage years (ages 16-19), indicating that is the prime time for such decisions. Certainly it is never too early to plant the seed in the heart of a young person who shows the gift for ministry. However, it is critical from the sophomore year of high school through the freshman year of college for students to receive encouragement to consider vocational ministry if they show the aptitude.
Pete Ramsey, youth minister with First Christian Church in Fort Myers, Florida, recently told me he would no longer bring his gifted youth workers to CIY MOVE Summer Conferences, because too many end up making the decision to enter vocational ministry—which means he loses their influence as sponsors in his youth program. In reality (or, “All kidding aside”), Pete really was excited he could count several who are now serving in the church as vocational ministers.
Of the poll respondents, 10 percent made their decision when they were at or past 25 years of age. This appears to be a growing trend. Church leaders should be challenged to pray for the Lord to raise up a harvest among their own workers who fall so in love with ministering to students that they will take the risk to leave a career and boldly pursue their passion.
Brad Zachritz was actively employed as manager for a car rental organization. However, he and his wife loved serving as youth sponsors. When a transition occurred in his church’s youth ministry role, Brad was approached to consider making a career move. The leadership at the church had observed his influence and potential. Brad now serves as student minister at Crosspoint Christian Church in Cape Coral, Florida.
Drew Moore taught math and coached football at a high school for six years (he even received the “Teacher of the Year award” from the state of Illinois) before becoming the director of student ministries at Eastview Christian Church in Bloomington, Illinois.
Churches that provide financial support for students tend to send more into the ministry field. Also, those who view career-transitioning adults as “living link” partners multiply the kingdom!
Question 2: Who most influenced you to make this decision?
Since the survey was to youth ministers, it comes as no surprise the top influencers in decisions to enter ministry were youth ministers (52 percent of those who responded). The mentoring and discipleship opportunity of the local church youth minister is huge. Today’s youth ministers must grasp the need to raise up the next generation of student ministers and to specifically talk to students who show ministry potential.
The second leading influencer of students who enter ministry are parents. I fondly remember my mother’s consistent encouragement to pursue “that which has eternal value” through her notes and prayers. Parents who release their children to pursue their spiritual gifts and provide financial/spiritual support reflect faith as old as Hannah’s. Conversely, almost every youth minister can tell of a talented student who desired to enter ministry as a vocation but was discouraged or denied by parents who wanted their teen to “make a better living.”
It is exciting to report senior ministers are the third greatest influencers (15 percent) of current youth ministers! Before the advent of youth ministry, preaching ministers were primary influencers.
I fondly remember my senior minister, Robert Palmer, participating in camp—he even rode with us on a bus from Michigan to Oklahoma to the first CIY conference—going on youth trips, participating on a regular basis in youth group meetings, etc.
It is vital that preaching ministers not abdicate all influence to the student ministry team, but intentionally stay involved in events for high school students, especially trips, retreats, and camps—times of intense interaction, discussion, and fellowship—where students can see their preacher outside of the typical Sunday morning setting!
Other influencers include youth workers (9 percent) and friends/peers (8 percent).
Dave Stone, senior minister at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has a great testimony of how he and several other friends who committed to ministry after a CIY conference met together a couple of times a month for “Ping-Pong, pizza, prayer, and preaching.”
Rounding out the list of influencers are conferences/camps (8 percent), professors/teachers (4 percent), elders/deacons (3 percent), and seeing a need (3 percent).
Question 3: Where were you when you made this decision?
Forty-three percent of those who responded listed conference or camp as the place where they sensed the Lord’s calling to enter vocational ministry. It is not surprising that such decisions occur when students are in an intense environment where the Word, worship, and community are primary and they have time to reflect, pray, and discuss life purpose and the eternal difference that one can make for the kingdom.
If the church is serious in raising up recruits for kingdom work, there will be strong vocal and financial support for ministries that involve students in retreats, conferences, and camp! How does your church budget reflect this priority?
Of those polled, 18 percent said the decision was a gradual process as the Holy Spirit softened their heart and guided their path. Nine percent listed conversations with another significant influencer, and interestingly, 8 percent said it was due to an unexpected ministry opportunity—that someone saw their potential and gave them a chance to do what became their heart’s passion.
Time spent in devotion to God’s Word directly influenced 8 percent to rise up and respond to kingdom needs. Others mentioned mission trip experiences and Bible college trips.
It is clear there needs to be a movement to fulfill Jesus’ instruction: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). And while we are praying, let’s ask the Lord to direct us to young people we can personally challenge to utilize their gifts and abilities in vocational ministry!
It seems as though the phone will never stop ringing. We can work together to answer the call.
Andy Hansen is executive director with Christ In Youth, Joplin, Missouri.