Helping them Hear the Call and Prepare for the Career: Raising Up Young People for Ministry

November 1st, 2010
This article is featured in the Calling & Career (Nov/Dec/Jan 2010-11) issue of Circuit Rider


In a time when the mainline church, including the United Methodist Church, is facing aging congregations and decline in membership, it becomes even more apparent that we must devote attention to intentionally raising up the next generation of leaders for ministry.

As a minister to students in middle school through college for 25 plus years, I have had the privilege of watching young people boldly embrace the call of God into vocational ministry. I have also heard the stories of those who experienced a nudge into ministry as a youth, and never really felt encouraged or supported by those in leadership to explore that call. Many of these now find themselves finished with school and locked into other vocations or making major life changes to pursue vocational ministry as a second career. So, the question I would like to pose is this: How do we as current leaders in our denomination become intentional about raising up the next generation of pastors and vocational ministry leaders?

Building a “Culture of Call”

One of the first things we need to do as we approach this topic is to evaluate whether or not we are currently building a culture of call in our churches and ministries. To do this, we must pose difficult questions. Are we intentionally offering up vocational ministry, both ordained ministry and full time lay ministry, as an exciting and fulfilling option for the young people in our congregations? Are we asking young, bright, gifted students if they have ever considered leading their generation by pursuing a career in ministry? Are we making it a natural part of what we do in any given ministry setting to ask our young people if they have ever felt prompted by God to consider a call into ministry? Have we made our congregations aware from the pulpit and through our church leadership that this is a priority for us? These questions are just a few to ask as we look for opportunities in our own settings to carve out a culture that is ripe for young people to hear and claim God's call in their lives.

It is a matter of first raising awareness among church leaders, parents, and everyone in the church that creating a place for young people to hear and respond to God's call is crucial to the future of our church. We must then work toward making it a core value in our ministries and churches by intentionally making it a high priority our congregations. I have seen this initial intentional step of building a culture of call become a strong foundation as well as a catalyst for developing the components that are essential to nurturing the call in youth and young adults.

Nurturing the Call

Once the foundation for developing a culture of call has been laid, the next step is to provide the basic components that are useful in a ministry designed to nurture and help shape those who respond to the call. Mentoring is a vital component, whether approached as one-on-one mentoring, or in a small group setting. There are benefits associated with each of these types of mentoring. One-on-one mentoring provides for coaching, teaching, and providing guidance in discernment in very personalized ways. On the other hand, mentoring a group of students can accomplish these same goals in a more general way, while providing an opportunity to build authentic Christian community among young people united in a common purpose of exploring a call to ministry. Ideally, if the setting allows for it, both types of mentoring can be offered.

The second component to incorporate, with the goal of giving students a realistic view of ministry, is experiential exploration, where students can discover and practice their own gifts in varied ministry settings. In some churches or ministries this might be as simple as allowing young people to take on leadership roles in ministry areas that already exist in the church. Examples of this are students leading various aspects of worship, preparing and leading Sunday school lessons, or even shadowing a pastor or church leader and helping them with daily ministry tasks. In some settings, it might mean partnering with other local churches or ministries to allow students to explore a wider variety of ministry possibilities and learn about their own passions and gifts. Other settings might allow for students to plan and implement a mission project or trip beside a seasoned leader. Each setting will offer unique outlets for students to explore ministry.

Building Knowledge and Skills

In addition to the components discussed above, leadership development and spiritual formation are two very important aspects of nurturing a call in a young person. Knowing the basics of Christianity, understanding and practicing spiritual disciplines, wrestling with the challenging questions, learning leadership skills, and beginning to understand theology are among the topics we need to cover with these young leaders. Whether it is provided in a classroom setting or through mentoring relationships, seeking out and sharing resources with the students as they develop in these areas should be a high priority. Additionally, hearing the stories of calling in the lives of those pursing or committed to vocational ministry is a component that will help students explore and claim their own stories of calling. Students can be under the impression that they cannot pursue a call because they feel inadequate or don't have Christianity all figured out, but hearing the stories and struggles of others can help dispel this myth.

Last, but certainly not least, we must help students understand their unique United Methodist heritage which is both rich in social justice and passionate about the Gospel of Christ. This way of understanding the core message of Christianity, tends to speak to the hearts of the next generation in a powerful way. Many young leaders are encouraged and energized as they grasp an understanding of the impact they can have on their generation as they seek to share an authentic and relevant expression of Christianity with their peers. With this basic structure, a wide variety of options for building ministry are possible. Each setting will provide unique opportunities and challenges that will allow the process to be tailored to each faith community.

At the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, where I currently serve in ministry to students, we have been developing a ministry called Ministry as a Career Track, MAC Track for short. We will begin our third year of MAC Track this fall and are currently working with over 60 middle school and high school students who are exploring a call to vocational ministry. This program will be expanded to include children, college students, and young adults this year.

As we develop resources and dialogue with other churches starting similar ministries, we have found that the basic ideas shared in this article have worked in varied settings with groups of different sizes—big and small churches alike. Let's ponder the next steps for our unique ministry settings as we join together to nurture the call that God has upon these young leader's lives. These are the leaders who will carry on the ministries we invest our lives in each day. These are the ministers who will bring the Gospel of Christ to the next generation.


For free MAC Track resources, contact Julie at

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