On the weekend of September 20-22, around twenty college and seminary women and twelve leaders gathered for a call discernment retreat in Houston, co-sponsored by BWIM and Texas BWIM. It was a wonderful weekend of storytelling, personal reflection, relationship-building, and listening to the voices of God and each other as these remarkable women came together to ask the hard questions about their life’s work and calling.

As I listened to women share their stories over the course of the weekend, I was struck by how many of them began to sense a call to ministry at a young age:      

“I first felt called to ministry at age 13.”
“My youth minister saw gifts in me and encouraged me to consider going into ministry.”
“When I was a girl, I would collect the leftover bulletins from the church pews after the worship service and take them home. I would gather my stuffed animals, and sometimes my friends from the neighborhood, and I would reenact the worship service and preach to them.”

Personally, I didn’t come to accept my call to ministry until I was a sophomore in college. But as a children’s minister for nearly 20 years, I can remember girls (and boys) in whom I saw a deep spiritual connection and giftedness for ministry even as early as elementary school.  Some of them actually embraced a call to ministry as they grew into adulthood.

For the last few weeks, our BWIM blog has featured posts from several ministers who work closely with children and who have highlighted the importance of children’s ministry in the life of the church. Over the next several weeks, the blog will feature writers who celebrate the vitality of youth ministry. This emphasis comes out of a deeply-held belief that we are never to young to hear God’s call and a conviction that nurturing and embracing God’s call is a life-long process. We want to lift up the importance of these ministries in the church, not only for the sake of the children and youth, but for the present and future of the church!

Recently, Pam Durso has joined with other leaders across the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for conversations about the role and future of theological education in Baptist life. One discussion point has been around the need to start younger in talking to our young people about calling. We can’t wait until they are graduating from high school or in college. Conversations around the ways we are gifted by God and how we are to use those gifts in the world need to be front and center of our churches’ formation of children and youth.  

As the church, we need to be intentional and proactive about planting seeds of calling early enough that they can take root and be nurtured and grow to bear fruit. This, of course, is a part of our responsibility to grow disciples; it is also necessary for the church to ensure its own viability and thriving in the future.

I challenge you to consider:

Who is a young person in whom you see gifts for God’s work? How can you encourage her or him?

What can your congregation do to be intentional about nurturing call in your young people? What are the practical steps to put some of these actions into place, and how can a spirit of congregational responsibility be developed?

A call to ministry rarely, perhaps never, happens in isolation. It is the work of the whole community of faith.

Julie Long is associate director of Baptist Women in Ministry.