Next-generation ministry envisioned at 'The Call'
ANDERSON, S.C. (BP) -- The next generation of Christian ministry leaders must embrace and nurture God's individual call on their lives before God will use them as ambassadors of the Gospel locally and globally, speakers said during "The Call" Conference held at two Baptist universities.
The two universities are part of the Call To Ministry Network aimed at encouraging and nurturing the next generation in their ministry pursuits. The coalition of four Baptist-related universities also includes California Baptist University in Riverside and Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Speakers implored students to devote themselves wholeheartedly to learning the Bible and experiencing God in their own lives while making Him known through serving and discipling others.
Likening the pursuit of vocational Christian ministry to Olympic athletes who consistently hone their craft, Clayton King, president of Clayton King Ministries, noted at the Anderson session, "The concept that we ... see biblically over and over again ... is this idea that we run as faithfully as we can, as consistently as we can for as long as we can, fully resting on the grace of God, anchored in [His] Word, empowered by the Gospel."
While Olympic athletes accomplish herculean feats in their own physical strength, Christian ministry requires faith that only God can do what is humanly impossible, said King, who also is the teaching pastor at New Spring Church, a South Carolina Baptist church with campuses throughout the state.
"If you're in full-time ministry and you don't want to quit at least once a week, you're not doing it right," King said. "Because if you're really in ministry, you are going to be not only called by God to do something you cannot do by yourself, but also called by God to help messed-up people, called by God to give answers to questions that you don't even know the answers to in your own life.
"You're also going to be invested in the lives of other broken people who are just as broken as you are.... [T]hey want you to give them some answers that always revolve around several big issues -- who is God, what is God like, what am I supposed to do, what is wrong with me, and tell me how I can have a better relationship with God and a better life."
Recounting Philip's baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch as described in Acts 8:25-39, King said the call to ministry "requires you to trust God when the unknown is bigger than the known."
"[God] is going to tell you to do things you've never done before and go places you've never even heard of," he said. "Ministry is not about you and me making a name for ourselves, it's about us making a name for Jesus.... It is not about building a platform. It is not about increasing Twitter traffic.... God uses people who have faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God."
Heath Thomas, dean of Oklahoma Baptist University's Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology & Ministry, told students and parents attending the conference at OBU that interest and passion for ministry will wane and eventually flame out if not stoked by a continued state of preparedness. "Ministry is not an add-on to life, he said. "It's a divine calling on our lives.
"You and I stand or fall on the Word of God," said Thomas, who also serves as professor of Old Testament and associate vice president for church relations at OBU. "If you want to fall, move away from the Word of God. As best you know how to, consecrate in your heart that as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ you will stand on the Word of God.... We are called as ministers to know and love the Word of God."
Defining theology as "the love and knowledge of God that leads to right belief, right action and right relationship in the church and world," Thomas said that simply possessing a biblical theology will not translate to transformational ministry if not applied specifically to one's own context. Understanding the appropriate leadership style required for one's environment or culture is crucial to ministry effectiveness, he said.
"It's one thing to know about ministry," Thomas said. "It's another thing to do ministry.... Whether you are a church planter or a pastor, you are to be a blessing to your community.
"Speak the truth in love," he counseled, adding, "You will organize in the applied side of ministry or you will agonize in ministry.... As ministers, God has called us to leverage all that we are to Gospel advancement. We get to light the fire of others in churches and other places far from Jesus."
Cliff Marshall of the South Carolina Baptist Convention church planting team told conference attendees in Anderson that demographic studies number the unchurched in South Carolina at 3 million, 200 million unchurched in the United States and 3 billion people unchurched globally.
Referencing the Great Commission, Marshall said, "The mandate for making disciples which came directly from the mouth of Jesus leads us to planting churches."
Successful church planting, he said, entails a biblical model of serving the community by meeting physical needs, followed by sharing the reason for eternal hope in Christ, disciple making and leadership training. "Planting new churches," he stated, "is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."
Prospective church planters who are simply pursuing a job on their terms, or a platform or venue to preach, need not apply, Marshall said, noting that church planter candidates who are in high demand are self-starters with broken hearts for those outside of a relationship with Christ, actively making disciples and sustained by healthy marital and family relationships.
James Noble, assistant professor of Christian ministry at Anderson University and pastor of Mountain Spring Baptist Church in Anderson, noted from Mark 8:34 that Jesus' command for ministry leaders involves exchanging their plans, desires and ambitions for a life of self-denial, sacrifice and limitless obedience to God.
"We can be a generation like the early church," Noble said, "and turn the world upside down."
Billy Young, next generation ministries lead catalyst with the Florida Baptist Convention, encouraged conference attendees at OBU to "be on witness for Christ in every phase of your life."
Young said he accepted God's call to vocational ministry when he was 17 but lost his ministry focus as a 19-year-old sophomore backup quarterback for the 1996 national champion Florida Gators. "The hope of my life was what happened on the football field," he said. "At 19, I thought I had arrived."
But, Young said, any attempt to define one's identity or purpose through performance, possessions or relationships will not satisfy for long.
"Whatever this is will leave you empty," he said. "I knew there was a Gospel tension in my life. I knew the call on my life was not to be focused on the things of this world. [God's] call on my life is to make much of Jesus in a world that God has placed me in.... I pray that your hope would be in the Gospel, reserved in heaven, bearing fruit for Jesus."
For more information about the Call To Ministry Network, visit https://calltoministry.com/.