1. Preach on the need for full-time kingdom workers.
All Christians are ministers, no matter their vocation. There is no clergy/laity distinction in God’s church, and all believers are called to witness, lead, and serve. “You got into the ministry when you got out of the baptistery.” May we never water down the biblical teaching on the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9).
But this too: may we never water down the need for vocational Christian leaders. Preach on the need for those who will give their working lives to leading the church, reaching the lost, preaching the Word (1 Corinthians 9:14).
I have a “road sermon” I’ve preached in many churches on Matthew 9:37, 38. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Too many times, after challenging the church to raise up vocational Christian workers, people say to me, “I’ve never heard a sermon on that before.”
Remind your church that without full-time kingdom leaders, most Bible translations would never exist and most pioneering mission work would never happen. Without vocational leaders, too many churches are never planted, too many congregations never grow, too many children are never taught, marriages never mended, addictions never broken, hungry never fed, nations never reached, and souls never saved.
The harvest is still plentiful; the workers are still few. Preach the need.
2. Make this a dial on your church’s dashboard.
Every church has a set of stats they monitor—worship attendance, offerings, baptisms, small group participation, volunteer numbers—to check their congregation’s health. Add a dial to your dashboard: number of young people sent into vocational ministry.
We measure what matters, so count how many students you’ve sent to Bible college in the last three years. Then decide to raise that number. Put “kingdom recruiter” on everybody’s job description, and set a goal. As Andy Stanley says, “Clarify the win.”
For 35 years, Henrietta Mears taught the college Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California. Five foot four inches tall, thickset, with “Coke-bottle” glasses and a deep love for Christ, this passionate woman made “vocational ministers raised” a measure of her ministry. She sent out more than 400 young men and women into Christian service. Among them: Young Life founder Jim Rayburn and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. Those two leaders alone represent hundreds of thousands of lives reached for Christ!
That’s a win.
3. Plant seed thoughts in the minds of potential kingdom leaders.
They might be the brightest students in the youth group, because God’s mission in the world needs the best leaders. Or they might be the C students, because God has a habit of choosing unlikely folks to make a big difference (1 Corinthians 1:27). Wherever you find them, plant the idea that God might be calling them to ministry. Say something.
Eighty-year-old D.P. Shaffer was still preaching in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, when he heard a first grader quote a large portion of John 14 in front of the congregation. After the service, D.P. patted the boy’s head and said, “You are going to make a good preacher someday.”
That little boy’s name was Bob Russell, who never forgot those words and went on to lead Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, to great kingdom impact.
Never underestimate the power of your words.
4. Speak of the joys of ministry.
Yes, ministry is hard, people can be frustrating, and the paycheck can be small. But don’t let difficulties be the only things young people overhear about ministry.
Let them also hear of the blessings. In 25 years of ministry, I’ve helped a child find John 3:16 for the first time. I have held the hand of a precious saint as she passed out of this world and into the arms of Jesus. I have lowered an obedient body into a liquid tomb and brought him back up to new life.
I have stood to preach on an ordinary Sunday—with 10,000 angels leaning over the balconies of Heaven, holding their breath, 10,000 demons glaring up through the gates of Hell, human eternities hanging in the balance—and I have seen proud spirits broken, wounded hearts healed, spiritual adrenaline surge through weary souls, and final destinies forever changed. Glory to God! In the great drama of the ages, we get to play a part!
Let young people hear: there are greater paychecks than those you cash at the bank. Speak of the joys of serving Jesus.
5. Involve young people in ministry now.
Take prospective kingdom workers on mission trips. Let them lead worship. Take them with you on a hospital visit. Help them prepare a lesson or sermon. A taste of ministry may whet their appetite for full-time service.
At a megachurch minister’s conference, Bob Russell was assigned the topic, “If I Had My Ministry to Do Over Again.” He mentioned seven things he’d do differently. One of them: Bob would start a junior high preacher’s club to recruit future ministers. Not a bad idea.
When Christian school principal Larry Leathermon saw preaching potential in a skinny, smart-alecky seventh grader, he assigned him a topic to preach in the school chapel. That junior higher may be the only person in church history to preach his first sermon on the subject of “Jesus: A High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek”! But that eight-minute, very forgettable sermon lit in his heart a passion to preach which still burns today.
That young man was me.
6. Connect them to kingdom heroes.
Our culture holds up athletes, models, business tycoons, and entertainers as heroes. Who will the young people in your church aspire to be?
Bring in missionaries to share their stories. Invite Bible college professors to preach in worship or youth group. Introduce young people to kingdom servants—at Christ In Youth gatherings and camp and conventions—and tell your students the backstory on each one. I know a church whose main hallway is lined with 8-by-10-inch photographs of each Timothy the congregation has sent out over the last 35 years.
I’ve had my own children read biographies of great saints of the past, taken them to a local nursing home to meet one of my spiritual mentors, and included them on trips to meet ministry leaders I admire.
An ancient Greek proverb says, “A people are known by the heroes they crown.” Connect your young people to men and women who have given their working lives to kingdom work.
Teenagers worship at an Ozark Christian College weekend event planned especially for them. Ozark hosts three such events each year—two for older teens and one for younger teens. The events not only help the teens dig deeper into the Word and faith, but also introduce them to a Christian college campus.
7. Take young people to visit a Bible college.
Let them sit in classes, worship in chapel, and sleep in the dorm. Introduce them to college students who will share their stories of God’s call. Sit in a professor’s office or two, and let them paint a picture of how God uses Bible colleges to shape people for life and ministry.
Young people who had never considered ministry suddenly find themselves immersed in a culture focused on full-time kingdom leadership. A vision is caught, and these teenagers begin to ask, “Would God want to use me in this way?”
Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, was also a Bible college professor. The purpose of a Bible college, he wrote, is “for God to help himself to lives.”
That can even happen on a campus visit.
8. Challenge parents to give their children to the Lord.
It’s often harder to convince parents to consider ministry than to convince students. Many are unsettled when their child shows interest in leadership ministry.
“Ministry is so stressful.” “The pay is so small.” “You need a degree that will help you in the real world.” “What if you (and my future grandchildren) are called to Africa?” It’s one thing to send a check to the mission field; it’s another thing to send a child.
Part of discipling the parents in your church will be challenging them to give their children fully to the Lord. Listen to their concerns. Then remind them of God’s care for their children. Give them a good ministry biography to read. Connect them to kingdom heroes, and share the joys of ministry. Connect them to other parents who have a child in ministry. Challenge them to pray, and pray with them.
Help parents set their children free to respond to God’s call in their lives.
9. Support ministry studies financially.
West Point trains leaders for our nation’s battles, and we as taxpayers underwrite a cadet’s education because a prepared military leadership matters. The church has Bible colleges and seminaries to train leaders for the spiritual battle, and it is fitting that the church underwrite that education because a prepared spiritual leadership really matters.
Financially support the schools themselves, but also consider paying for a particular student’s education.
Lexington preacher Wayne Smith once led a young man in the U.S. Army to the Lord and wrote faithfully to him during his enlistment, asking him to consider ministry when he was finished. When the soldier was discharged, he discovered Wayne had already enrolled him at Cincinnati Bible Seminary and paid for his first year’s tuition! That young man’s name was Joe Wright, who saw thousands come to Christ during his ministry at Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas.
Kingdom leaders are a good return on investment.
Jesus commanded, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” Do you pray this prayer?
My testimony: I grew up knowing I was called to be a preacher. But when I was named a National Merit finalist in high school, I pulled a Jonah and ran from God’s call. I enrolled at the University of Iowa as a journalism major. (Tom Brokaw went to the University of Iowa.) I was going to make my name in the world, and that year at the university, I was a prodigal son in a far country.
The following summer, I worked at a Christian camp—dishwasher, trash collector, woodchopper—and during the evening chapel services, I would stand in the back during worship. I liked the music and thought the band was cool, but when the preacher stood to preach, I would leave. I didn’t want to hear it.
During the ninth grade camp, the week’s preacher was an unassuming little guy named Bob Martin. Bob was not what you’d call a dynamic youth speaker, but when he began to preach, I couldn’t leave. His words reached out and grabbed me, and the Holy Spirit began a weeklong blitz on my heart.
At Thursday night’s invitation, after Bob’s message, a crowd of crying ninth grade girls walked down the aisle to rededicate their lives to Jesus (for the 17th time), and so did one college freshman guy. In front of that camp, I repented. It was time to get right with God and follow his call. I was heading to Bible college to be a preacher.
What I did not know at the time: Bob Martin knew my story. (My hometown preacher was his brother-in-law.) He knew I was a Jonah.
What else I did not know at the time: Bob had fasted that entire week and prayed for me every single day by name.
The only reason I’m writing this article is because Bob Martin prayed me back into the kingdom...and right into ministry.
Who is waiting for you to pray them into ministry?
This article was first published in the Christian Standard (August 2016).