When I was thirteen, I felt the call to ministry. I was sitting in my grandfather’s church, listening to him preach, and I felt something in me say “This will be you someday.” And I never looked back.
When I told my pastor about my call a few months later, my pastor made sure to include me in worship leadership. At first it was simply reading Scripture, but by the time I was fifteen I was preaching a sermon at least once or twice a year. I helped with Communion, I led liturgy and prayers. After I was baptized, I was made a member of our Deacon Board (this happens when you are in a small church startup with about twenty members!) When I was in college, the pastor of the church I attended invited me to preach. The first time he was present; after that, he invited me as pulpit supply on occasion.
These experiences helped build me up and prepare me for ministry long before I attended seminary. And when I was serving in my first church as an associate minister, we established our first Youth Sunday in a long, long time. But I knew that Youth Sunday wasn’t going to cut it. Only once a year? Only one time for the youth to share their gifts for ministry? So I began to establish, with the help of the senior minister, a training program for youth starting in middle school to help in the worship service. And we began by reading Scripture to the congregation, and worked our way into other areas of the service.
At my second church, where I served as Senior Pastor, I did the same—but I also invited youth to preach and not just on Youth Sunday. And when she turned sixteen, I invited her to come on pastoral visits with me (but I always received permission first from the homebound member). She also eventually was invited to serve on the church board.
In both churches, there was one youth who began to feel a call to ministry and felt uplifted, supported and encouraged in that call, just as I had felt many years ago.
What are we doing in our churches to support young people in the call to ministry? What are we doing to help laity of all ages feel supported in their call to ministry?
All too often, worship is led by the pastor, and even if laity are involved, it is simply for things such as taking the offering or serving Communion, or maybe reading Scripture. The number one complaint I hear from pastors when I ask them how laity participate in worship is that the laity are not trained to read Scripture or to lead in worship. But that is our job. If we are not involving the laity in our worship services (and of course I am speaking from a Free Church congregation with no set liturgy other than what was created by tradition within this particular congregation), we are failing to raise up the next generation of leaders.
In my current congregation, no one has come forward to me to express an interest in professional ministry—yet. But that does not mean I do not provide those opportunities, as much as possible, by inviting others to participate and serve. I also provide training, once a year, on reading Scripture out loud, what the Prayer of Invocation is and what it means to call people into worship. An 85-year-old woman in my church, who attended the training but had no interest in actually leading it, said to me “I never knew what the word Invocation really meant until now. Now I know what it is we are doing.” Sometimes, in the Free Church tradition, we have done a poor job of educating within our communities on what it is worship means, what is liturgy, and what it is we are doing.
We need to do better. Think of ways you can involve others in leadership, and ways we can educate our congregations on what worship is, but we also need to find ways of encouraging and lifting up those within our congregations who may be gifted for ministry. It is not enough to bless them and send them on their way to seminary; we must begin cultivating that call now.