Twenty youth stood bashfully on the stage; the youth pastor, mic in hand, in just a moment would pray for them before they headed off to the annual youth convention. But first, he challenged them to be fully open to God’s lead in their lives. My eyes shifted from the pastor to scan the faces of the youth, straining to see what might lie deeper in their hearts. My gaze moved down the line of teens as the pastor continued his challenge, which sounded strangely close to a warning not to come back unless their lives were radically changed for Jesus.
While this pressure was building on these young vulnerable lives my eye-movement jolted back to the youth pastor. It’s what he said next that brought about this sudden shift to my attention, away from the teens to him. “Who knows?” he said with excitement. “Maybe, just maybe, some of you might be called this week to become a missionary, or even a pastor.” And then he prayed for them, committing each of them to God, asking the Almighty to call some into full-time ministry.
I can still remember those moments in my youth where the call to serve God offered only two valid options. Well, maybe three. Commit yourself fully to God, which meant full time ministry; do something else and live a mediocre life, or rebel against His will for your life (by not going into ministry). I wondered how many of the youth who stood on that platform and who bent under the pressure of the pastor’s prayer-of-high-expectation came back from the conference with a sense of shame and guilt because God did not call them. Most, I’m sure, settled for second best to God’s purposes, forced to a life of less-commitment, like being just a homemaker, or just an engineer or school teacher while the few who were more fortunate to have been touched by God led a more committed life of vocational ministry. (*)
There’s been a slight shift in emphasis today in this clarion call to serve God that sounds a bit different than a call to full-time ministry, but the pressure on our youth is still the same. I’m a dad to two children still in their twenties, and one who is sixteen and lives at home. I try as best I can to keep tabs with their generation by listening to a lot of podcasts of sermons and messages from large conferences and popular pastors who are the shakers and movers in their lives. The call into full-time ministry as God’s preference has now been replaced by the marching order to change the world. You are the generation that can change the world, is one example of what this inspiring call sounds like. And of course, after some years when the teen enters his twenties, or thirties and the world is no different around him, he’s left with little choice but to conclude that he’s failed God. Incidentally, you’ll find no scripture that calls the believer to change the world. The world’s a mess, and will get messier and the Bible makes it very clear that lawlessness will increase and more people will fall away from God than ever before (Read Matthew 24 if you don’t believe me). Instead, the church is called to make disciples who will remain faithful to Jesus (v.45) as the world spins wildly out of control. Remember how Jesus responded to the disciple’s indignation to the woman wasting the perfume on him by insisting the money would have rescued many poor people? Jesus responded by saying, You always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could… (Mark 14:7)
Making disciples who remain faithful to Jesus is something I can work with. It’s manageable and appealing. It allows me to stay where I am, or move around in the mundane arenas of life and still live obediently to the call of Jesus. Had those youth been challenged to come back and keep loving Jesus wherever he places them in life, even if it’s in the ordinary places where the spotlight is not as bright, I can only imagine their excitement and the testimonies they’d be eager to share. After all, the ones who Jesus will say to, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master,’ are those who simply used what they had for him. (Matthew 25:21). They did what they did for him, whether it was turning a wrench to lock a motor in place, or thread needles for keeping a well-worn pair of socks together, or preaching to a lost tribe in India; theirs were lives that pleased Jesus.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. (Colossians 3:23)
(*) It’s important I distinguish between the distinct call upon a man’s life into ministry from the special blessing that is associated with that call. As a pastor for 30 years I know I was called to this particular occupation. But I realize even more so now that this does not come with any more of a special blessing than the blessing of serving Christ given to someone working in a factory or teaching in a classroom.The role of the pastor according to Ephesians chapter 4:11-12 is uniquely to equip the believer in his works of service. And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; This puts tremendous value on the ordinary person who sits in the pew every Sunday. The pastor is uniquely called with a specific purpose of empowering those under his care to serve and love Jesus with faithfulness in whatever place God has him or her. This means the uniqueness and burden of the call for the factory worker is as special and important as it is to the pastor in the role God has given him. To be called by God to follow him and live for his glory, wherever he puts you, is the greatest privilege given to every believer.