Just before my 18th birthday, Christ captivated my life. I accepted Christ and joined a small Nazarene Church in Virginia. Soon Pastor Baun (the pastor of the Nazarene Church) invited me to preach on a Sunday night. A little confused, I wondered why a three-month-old Christian, fresh from drug and alcohol abuse and a life of crime, was asked to preach. Nervously, I stood before 22 Nazarenes. While talking, I felt a heavy finger on my right shoulder. Looking only to find no one there, I heard a voice that seemed to say: “You’re going to do this the rest of your life.” This was my call to Christian ministry.
Rev. Baun’s role in my hearing God’s call was vital. Without his courageous insight, it is doubtful I would have heard God’s call. Rev. Baun sensed what I could not. He thought God could use anyone, even me. He provided experiences to assist my pursuit of the call. He and his family made me feel valued as I never had before.
The following year, Rev. Baun encouraged me to pursue education. “A call to ministry is a call to prepare,” he said.
I had dropped out of school in the eighth grade and had little education, so I needed to take GED courses first. He encouraged the church to celebrate this victory. I applied to college (Trevecca Nazarene University), and to my amazement, I was accepted! Going to Trevecca changed my life further. There, I met my wife of now 36 years. What an impact one person can have on a young minister’s life!
Looking back, I see these experiences have crystalized into four key components that I have used to develop ministers. I have seen these areas help navigate other young men and women through the process of ministry from clueless to clergy.
1. Cultivate the call: One of the things I heard often from pastors while I served as district superintendent was that there weren’t enough leaders in the local church to do the needed ministry. I am convinced the leaders who are needed to do ministry in the local church are already present, just not yet discovered. How do we identify these people and begin cultivating the call God has placed on their lives?
• Be sensitive to the Spirit to identify the men and women He is calling.
• Avoid limiting who might be a minister by preconceived secular standards. God can call anyone regardless of gifts, skills, and qualities. God doesn’t call qualified people; He qualifies those He calls. We tend to look for the finished product rather than a diamond in the rough. Most of us would not have chosen Moses, an ex-murderer from Egypt, to deliver God’s people out of bondage, but God did.
• Preach and discuss regularly the call to ministry. Give your congregation the opportunity to respond. When I first met Nathan, he was an elementary school teacher in Georgia. After the birth of his son, he took a break from his job.
Occasionally, during his time off, he joined me as I visited the hospital or connected with people in the community. Each year I preached a series on the call to ministry. Nathan sensed a call from God to full-time ministry, and he is now a lead pastor. He has become a great leader, evangelist, and church planter. Often a gentle nudge or an opportunity to serve in ministry is all someone needs.
2. Provide experience: I call this “OJST” (On the Job Servant Training). The best ministry experience is servant ministry.
I am currently planting an urban core church in the heart of Kansas City called “TLC”—Total Life Church of The Nazarene. I always seek someone to accompany me while I minister in the community. It can be difficult to find someone when time is limited; however, it is well worth the investment of time. I’ve been privileged to see many young ministers develop.
Currently a young seminary student named Femi Akinmoladun, who was the first to join TLC, stands out. I have watched him develop into a great minister. We have experienced difficult congregants, gospel presentations, hospital visits, baptisms, and spiritual conversions together. I have watched him develop the skill of servanthood. I think I have learned more from him than he has from me.
3. Encourage education: There are many great options educationally. Fortunately, we are blessed at TLC to be geographically close to an amazing liberal arts college (MidAmerica Nazarene University), a great Bible college (Nazarene Bible College), and a strong seminary (Nazarene Theological Seminary). I have always encouraged those who are called to immediately pursue training through one of our educational institutions. A wonderful option is to send the candidate for several years of preparation and training. Another great option, more accessible today than ever before, is online education. It is amazing to watch some of the students in our area become involved in our ministry at TLC. They often work two jobs and take a full course load while being heavily engaged in multiple ministries at TLC. Among these exceptional students is Jenee Noriega. Although she came from an impossible situation of drugs, abuse, and crime, she has plugged into TLC and is thriving in ministry, while studying theology in seminary. Her experiences are informing her educational endeavors and vice versa.
Thank God for people who are willing to respond to the call, sacrifice much, and work hard to prepare for what God will do in their lives moving forward. Education is cheap at any cost. Few things enhance a ministerial candidate’s education more than “OJST” while in the process of formal education.
4. Guide toward ordination: One of the great opportunities leaders have when nurturing ministerial candidates is to lead them forward in the credentialing process. Although the responsibility officially lies squarely on the developing minister, a loving, diligent, and thoughtful pastor offering support can make all the difference. In my experience, as soon as someone senses a call, we give them an assignment, a local preacher’s license, and we begin their process toward ordination.
Giving a local preacher’s license is probably the most important step in the journey. My practice has been to have local license candidates interviewed by the church board to consider gifts, graces, and abilities early on. Often these board interviews help clarify the call and provide initial affirmation. Occasionally, theseinterviews confirm that the call was not for vocational ministry, and these candidates are liberated to pursue other ministry areas outside of vocational (pastoral) ministry. I would encourage lead pastors to initiate this process early and nudge every candidate throughout the process. It is a way to multiply our ministry: We “make heroes,” instead of trying to always be “the hero” ourselves.
Keep your radar up and your mentoringskills polished. Be alert! Prospective ministers are waiting to be discovered, developed, nurtured, and equipped for a life of fruitful service.