One of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry to teens is that I get to interact with some of the most Spirit-filled teenagers that I have ever met. They may not be perfect, but they are fired up about Jesus. In this world when so many teens are going astray, getting to interact with some that are right on track is refreshing. It is not uncommon for teens who are deeply involved in the church to wonder if they might be called to ministry in some vocational way. When assisting teens in discerning God's calling on their lives, I encourage them to think through these seven principles regarding vocational ministry.
1. There is a special calling for vocational ministry.
God calls every Christian to minister using the spiritual gifts He has given them. Therefore every Christian ought to be involved in some type of ministry in whatever church they attend. But God has also called some people to the special role of serving in ministry as their profession. That is what it means when we talk about "vocational ministry." A vocation refers to the job that allows a person to make a living. While every Christian ought to be serving the Lord in some way, some Christians will feel led to completely immerse themselves in service to the Lord by serving as a pastor, missionary, music minister, chaplain, Christian school teacher, youth worker, seminary professor, church planter, or some other vocational ministry role. The first step in determining if a person has a vocational call to ministry is to pray and seek confirmation from the Lord if this is what the person should be doing as their vocation.
2. Seek wisdom on what type of call God may be issuing.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of different ways a person can serve the Lord in vocational ministry. Often the Lord calls a person to serve in a particular role because of their personality or talents. Sometimes that calling even shifts some as a person moves through life. They may start as a youth worker in a church but eventually become the pastor. Or they may start as a teacher in a Christian school and later sense led to become a missionary. There are many ways in which to serve and a person must ask God to show them which one is right for them at that particular stage in their life. Then they must be willing to obey whatever God leads them to do, even if it was not what the person had in mind when they first felt called to vocational ministry.
3. Seek advice from a trusted minister.
A great help in determining both the calling to vocational ministry and which type of ministry a person might be called to is talking to a person who is already serving in vocational ministry. Ask what it is like to serve in that particular ministry as a profession. Discuss the many different types of ministry careers that are available. Discuss what type of training might be required for different types of ministry. Ask the person to pray with you and help you walk through this exciting time of decision in life.
4. Develop personal spirituality.
If a person wants to be in successful in ministry, they are going to have to be a spiritual person and live a righteous life. Reading the Bible, having a strong prayer life, and eliminating unholy habits are important. No one is perfect, but it is important to start living a holy life as soon as a person thinks he or she may be called to ministry. God can use anyone, no matter what their background, but obviously it is more difficult for people who lacked personal holiness in the past and are carrying a lot of baggage around with them to serve as effectively in ministry as a person who has been focused on a living a holy life for a long time. Begin focusing on being a spiritual person, a righteous person, a holy person. Even aspiring ministers will make mistakes, but if personal spirituality remains the focus, it is possible to avoid making any mistakes that would significantly hamper future ministry.
5. Prepare for ministry through training.
Don't just read the Bible, start studying the Bible intently. Invest in some good commentaries and other Bible study aids that will aid in explaining the Bible in order to teach others. Attend programs, classes or conferences aimed at improving ministry skills. If possible, enroll in a Bible college or seminary for professional training. God does use people who have not been to Bible college or seminary, but most ministers affirm that what they learned in Bible college or seminary was a significant help to them in ministry. Therefore it is good for a person who feels called to ministry to plan to attend an accredited school for ministry training if at all possible.
6. Ask the local church to examine your calling.
Every church has different methods of helping a person confirm their calling to ministry. Find out how your church does it and then start the process. If a person is really called by God to ministry, then the church will recognize that calling and affirm it. If the church is unwilling to affirm that calling, it is important to examine your heart and make sure you have heard from God correctly about your calling. In some ministry roles a person needs to be licensed or ordained. There is normally a process that needs to be worked through in order to receive those credentials. Take the time to work through that process as the church requires. It will be worth it in the end.
7. Begin looking for ways to serve now while preparing for the future.
When a person first begins to feel a call to vocational ministry, they should look for ways to serve in volunteer ministry. It may be several years before the person has received enough training and been through whatever processes are required to actually serve in a vocational way. But that person should immediately look for smaller ways to serve. If a person cannot teach Sunday School faithfully, how will they ever be able to preach regularly? If a person cannot lead music once a month in church, how will they ever become a music minister? If a person cannot teach for one week in the summer Vacation Bible School, how will they ever be able to teach daily in a Christian school? The reality is that the quality of service a person does for the Lord right now is a reflection on the quality of ministry they will do in the future. And if a person is not serving the Lord right now as a volunteer, it is unlikely that person will be able to serve Him in the future in any vocational way.
Like any other profession, ministry has it's challenges. But serving the Lord is very fulfilling. Helping people find peace, hope and joy in their lives is a wonderful thing. Helping people find faith in Christ and security for eternal life is the most rewarding of all. If you are feeling called to vocational ministry, be prepared for a challenging but extremely rewarding life.