“The one God calls, He enables by His presence to fulfill completely His call. Any other assignment offered by the world will always be a huge step down!”
—Henry T. Blackaby and Henry Brandt
The Call to Vocational Ministry
While God calls everyone to salvation and ministry, the church has long recognized that God uses some persons’ aptitudes, interests, and physical and emotional capacities to call them into some phase of ministry as their vocation. Based on their gifts and desire to serve, these persons find that they can best devote their entire time to God’s call to a specific task. They will earn their livelihood through their calling as they serve.
The primary reason for committing your life to vocational ministry is that you have sensed this to be God’s will for your life. Often accompanying this growing sense of call is knowing you will not and cannot be satisfied doing anything else with your life!
Something inside you causes you to go further, to the point of saying, “God, whatever You want to do with my life, I am open and ready to follow You.” Deep within, you gradually realize that the only satisfaction you will find is to surrender your life to Him and commit yourself to vocational ministry.
You know that God has put the motivation in your heart, mind, and soul to serve Him with your life through vocational ministry. At this point, in what role you will serve Him doesn’t matter as much as the certainty that He has called you, and you will dedicate your life to serving Him.
If this is where you are, your first step, after acknowledging and accepting God’s call to vocational ministry, is to begin the process of becoming all that God has planned for you to be. This process will involve growth in many areas of your life and will continue throughout your life.
As you prepare, God doesn’t want to change you into somebody else or change your basic personality.
• He wants to refine you and to use your uniqueness to glorify Himself.
• If He calls you, who you are will exactly fit with His specific plan for your life.
• God combines His call on your life and His anointing (which is supernatural) with spiritual maturity, education, experience, and the development of necessary skills—to be the most usable vessel you can be.
• Without the call and the anointing, none of those other strengths will be adequate for you to succeed as a minister.
Grow in Discipleship
Disciples of Jesus are those who are in a relationship with Jesus while learning to be like Him. If you are a disciple, you are learning to live your life as Jesus would live your life if He were you. (Adapted from Dallas Willard)
Your goal as a disciple: For the glory of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, spend a lifetime embracing the full supremacy of the Son, responding to His majesty in all of life, inviting Christ to live His life through you, and joining Him in making disciples among all peoples.
The Bible. The foundation for a life of discipleship is the Bible. Apply the same skills you are learning in English class to the Bible. Read entire books of the Bible from start to finish. Mark the major themes. Summarize. Outline. Read repetitively. Approach the Word with all the discipline you would apply to learn calculus or the violin or gymnastics. (Adapted from Jen Wilkin)
The Spiritual Disciplines. The spiritual disciplines are learned habits. They are practices that connect you to King Jesus and the power of the Spirit. They are channels of God’s grace. Study and practice the spiritual disciplines and embrace them into your life. Among the spiritual disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
Apologetics and Worldview. As part of the preparation for a lifetime of ministry, you need to take ownership of your faith. Your study of apologetics and worldview are essential steps in taking that ownership.
Apologetics discovers reasonable answers to issues related to:
- God’s Existence
- The Bible
- Alternative Christian Views
- Alternative Worldviews
Worldview represents the lens through which you see reality. Worldview shapes everything you know, believe, and do. Disciplers and mentors can help you discover biblical answers to the most basic questions in life, such as,
- Who am I?
- What does it mean that God made me in His image?
- Where do I belong?
- What is my purpose?
- How should I live?
- What is true?
- What is valuable?
- What is beautiful?
Tell your parents and church leaders you want them to guide you through a thorough study of apologetics and worldview. Also, ask leaders to help you investigate summer camps that provide intensive training in apologetics and worldview. Such training could provide a foundation for a lifetime of ministry.
Biblical Interpretation. Disciplers and mentors can teach you how to interpret correctly any passage of Scripture for yourself. This skill is essential for everyone in vocational ministry. One of the best books on this subject is Journey into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays.
Reading. Reading is excellent preparation for vocational ministry. Continually ask spiritually mature leaders what you should read. Read books and other media they recommend. Later, discuss what you have read with those adults. In the same way, ask leaders to recommend podcasts that can help you grow in Christ and prepare to lead God’s people.
Find a Mentor
Teenagers, both in and outside the church walls, are looking for genuine relationships with their elders. Teenagers want to learn, connect, and grow. They want to be mentored and discipled. Perhaps that describes you.
Ideally, the people who have the greatest potential to take you deeper in Christ are your parents. When you have warm heart connections (relationships) with both parents, their faith will flow easily to you.
You also need integrity relationships with at least three unrelated adults who love Jesus. Integrity relationships with spiritually and emotionally healthy adults of the church can accelerate your being transformed more into the image of King Jesus. Search out adults who increasingly are alive to Christ and are on mission with Him—and who seem open to heart connections with you.
But beyond relationships with parents and several other adults, every vocational volunteer needs a mentor. A mentor shares with you a life-on-life relationship. That mentor is willing to say, “Follow my example as I follow Christ.” A mentor is someone you can turn to for advice, wisdom, and encouragement.
Possible mentors include senior adults or other adults who do not typically work with teenagers. Pastors of the church might be mentors. A relative who loves Jesus might serve as your mentor.
You may need to take the initiative in finding a mentor. You need to pray for God’s leadership as you choose possible mentors to approach. Do not be discouraged if the first person you invite to mentor you says no. Just pray again and then move on to other candidates. In every conversation, let the adult know you are serious about growing in Christ and that you believe a mentor will be valuable as you become more like Jesus.
Serve in Your Church, Student Ministry, or Community
Your Church. Your church is a wonderful lab for you to explore your ministry gifts and abilities. Talk to your pastor and youth leader about places where you could serve. Offer to assist one of the ministers. If you are older, consider serving as an intern with one of the ministers of the church.
In your church, very likely there are:
- Bible study classes that need teachers and leaders
- Youth and children’s ministries that need help
- Outreach programs that can use committed workers and leaders
- Many other similar needs
Your church is a good place to see how churches work as you assist with things like media and communications ministries, volunteer as a pastoral care associate, or serve in some other area. Some day you may be encouraging others to take on such roles. Why not do it yourself now?
Your Student Ministry. Tell your student pastor that you want to be of service to your student ministry. Be willing to serve in public roles and background roles. Talk with your student pastor about the types of service that might best prepare you for the ministry you seem to be moving toward for the future.
Your Community. The opportunity for service extends beyond your church also. There are likely ministries in your community working with those who need a helping hand—rescue missions, shelters for abused women, children’s homes, and many more. You will receive a blessing by your faithful service in Christ’s name, and the experience you gain will be of great value in your future ministry.
Serve as a Missionary in the U.S. or Internationally
Christ followers use every means to reach every person everywhere. Christ calls you to have a heart for missions in your neighborhood, nation, and world. Missions outreach is not something you do; it is something you are because of the commission of Jesus.
No matter what kind of ministry God calls you into, you certainly will want a heart for missions in that place of service. That heart for missions and an understanding of missions can grow now.
Your School. High school and middle school campuses are mission fields. Christian students can be missionaries to those schools. Churches can commission, send, and support those teenage missionaries. Teachers, coaches, and parents are limited in their freedom to share the gospel in schools, but students have many opportunities to share the love of Jesus.
Talk with your pastor or leader about your interest in becoming a campus missionary. Discuss whether your church would be willing to commission you and pray for you as you take the gospel to school. Ask a leader to prepare you to carry the good news.
Ask Jesus to awaken you to the spiritual needs of fellow students. Invite Him to give you opportunities to meet those needs in His name and power. Dedicate yourself to living a believer’s lifestyle, sacrificially serving others, and being on mission every day.
Mission Trips. Any time your church offers a mission trip in the U.S. or internationally, pray hard about going. For many reasons, mission trips are superb preparation for a lifetime of vocational ministry.
Such trips provide a concrete way for you to live out the faith your family and church have taught you. You can develop compassion and learn to respect the worth and value of every individual. Mission trips reorder values and priorities. And most importantly, they accelerate the coming of Christ’s kingdom on earth.
Sometimes you may not have the finances for a trip you sense God wants you to take. Send letters to family, friends, and church members, inviting them to share in the mission trip by providing financial support.
If you’re in a very small church or in a church that does not do mission work in the summer, you can consider going with another church or mission organization. Your pastor or church leader may know of churches in the area that would welcome your going with them. Or you may have relatives or friends in churches that would include you in a mission trip.
Summer Camps. Also, some large summer camps include opportunities for missions service. You can attend such camps along with a parent or sponsor from your church. Such camps allow you to build friendships with many teenagers who have a heart for ministry similar to yours. To see some of the options for such weeks, click here. (https://www.fugecamps.com/mfuge/)
A Longer Mission Trip. Soon after high school, you can ask Jesus if He wants you to serve in missions for a few months or longer. This longer term of service might come between high school and college. Or you might begin college but then take a semester or year to serve in missions before completing your education. Many colleges encourage students to take a “gap semester” or a “gap year” for some positive purpose. A more extended mission trip may be an ideal way to spread the gospel before you have the responsibilities of full-time employment or a family. To explore options for such service, click here. (https://www.imb.org/students/)
Formal Education in College
Formal education will be part of your preparation to do ministry as your vocation. Such formal training may include an undergraduate degree in a college or university. And your training may also include study in a graduate school after you earn a bachelor’s degree. One or both degrees will provide training that will be valuable across all the years of vocational ministry.
Many students preparing for vocational ministry choose to attend a Christian college or university. In the schools truly centered on Christ, faith permeates the entire college experience. Professors who love Jesus and embrace the Bible approach every subject from a Christian perspective. The training they provide and the faith they embody provide a firm foundation for a lifetime of ministry.
If you plan to attend seminary in the future, you may wonder if you should major in Christian studies on the undergraduate level. Parents, pastors, or church leaders may have thoughts on this question that would be helpful to you. Some students do choose a more general major in college and then focus on ministry preparation in seminary. Such students might major in English, history, or some other discipline.
On the other hand, majoring in Christian studies in college has many advantages. Such majors provide outstanding preparation for seminary courses, leading to excellence in those classes. In addition, some seminaries allow students with college majors in Christian studies to skip some basic courses and move to more advanced courses.
God may open doors for you to serve in a paid or volunteer leadership role in a church during college. If so, what you are learning in a Christian studies degree will be immediately useful to you in that leadership position.
Formal Preparation in Seminary
If you spend decades in vocational ministry, spending two or three years to prepare in a seminary or graduate school may be wise stewardship of your life. And even while you are pursuing a ministry degree, you can serve in kingdom roles in paid or volunteer positions.
Those who are your spiritual leaders and mentors can help guide you in choosing a seminary. They will help you consider your calling and interests in ministry, your finances, the programs and majors available at specific schools, the theological foundation of schools, and other variables.
For a list of seminaries associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, click here. (https://www.sbc.net/about/what-we-do/sbc-entities/)