Each year, the Foundation for Evangelism presents a Culture of the Call Award to a local United Methodist congregation that exhibits best practices in encouraging young people, age 35 and younger, to answer God's call to full-time Christian service. The award recognizes local churches, large and small, with a culture that encourages, supports and nurtures young people.
The 2015 recipient is Hastings (Minnesota) United Methodist Church. The Ministry as a Career (MAC) program identifies students with spiritual gifts and talents and lets them experience different aspects of pastoral ministry. The Rev. Chris Kneen, senior pastor, says students explore as they read Scripture in front of the congregation, preach and play in the worship band, help in the sound booth, lead the youth worship service, produce video announcements and serve as counselors for the middle school camp. "These experiences encourage them to further their education after completing the program," he says
Previous recipients of the Culture of the Call Award are Swartz Creek (Michigan); Collegiate, Ames, Iowa; University/Las Naciones Fellowship/First Filipino-American, Las Vegas; First, Winfield, Kansas, and Denver, North Carolina, United Methodist churches.
Different churches, different cultures
The Culture of the Call at Winfield First Church "has been created (mostly) through our student internship program with Southwestern College," says the Rev. David Smith, senior pastor. "Over the decades, they have sent us students interested in exploring ministry of various sorts, and we have provided a safe and educational environment for that exploration. Interns help with worship, children and youth ministry, and social media." Intentional mentoring encourages students to ask questions and process their experiences.
Called: One Word, Many Ways
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry led a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and United Methodist Communications to develop the "Called: One Word, Many Ways" materials. United Methodist clergy and other leaders can choose from the free downloadable resources to help children, youth and adults explore and discern God's call in their lives. Visit www.explorecalling.org/called to find graphics, worship resources and education resources for children and teens and more.
- Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer
- A Sacred Voice Is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience, John Neafsey
- Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation through Mutual Accountability, David Lowes Watson
- Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath
- Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World, Dorine Grinenko Baker (ed.)
- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, Donald Miller
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
- The Q.U.E.S.T. for Vocation: A Personal Journey to Discern a Life's Calling, Quincy Brown
- In This Time and in This Place: Vocation in Higher Education: Vocation and Higher Education (chapter 11), Quincy Brown
- Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, Gregory LeVoy
- Build Your Dreams: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love, Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden
Denver Church launched its Ministry as a Career (MACtrack) program in 2012 after the Rev. Jeff Johnsen, lead pastor, attended a Leadership Institute program. There he was introduced to the concept of raising today's youth, known as Generation Z, to serve full time in Christian ministry. "MACtrack provides students with the chance to learn about different forms of ministry and assists with the discernment of calls to ministry," Johnsen explains.
Now in its fourth year, the MACtrack program has 26 youth – about 25 percent of the church's 100 youth – involved in weekly ministries. MACtrack students are in five groups, each led by a high school junior or senior and "one apprentice with the understanding that next year, he or she will become a leader of a group," Johnsen says.
The groups meet from September to May and hear speakers address: When did they receive a call? How did they respond to it? How did they get where they are now? The students also have a three-day missions retreat in January.
"Mentoring youth is challenging because they have so many options," says Johnsen. "I often tell them that while only a third of them may be serving one day in full-time ministry, the other two-thirds will be serving somewhere in a local church raising their families to love and honor God."
Establishing a culture of call
The Rev. Quincy Brown, associate pastor of Serve Ministries at Peachtree City (Georgia) United Methodist Church and former chaplain and vice president for spiritual life and church relations at LaGrange College in Georgia, identified four distinct areas that help produce a culture of call: retreats, service projects/mission trips, mentoring/apprenticeships and storytelling.
Retreat experiences often move people outside their comfort zones to a remote or different place for a particular purpose, Brown explains. The discomfort may force people "to confront their assumptions about God and their place in the world," he says. "It is also a place where common distractions are left behind and the noise of busy lives is turned down – or at least put on ‘pause' – so that people can hear God's voice.
"Service opportunities can force us into a new culture and allow us to come face-to-face with our own human need," he says. "Once we experience our common humanity in serving to alleviate human suffering, such as poverty, injustice, oppression and abuse, we are able to ‘try on' the call to respond to the needy." At LaGrange, Brown found "service projects such as mission trips and cultural immersion trips were the No. 1 way that helped students to listen to a call."
Sunday school, youth and children's groups and other mentoring communities also help people discern God's call. Small groups "provide a show-and-tell way of discerning a call," he says. "This is the primary way Jesus used to help his followers to hear the call of God's grace, love and forgiveness."
Storytelling is "the most overlooked area of creating a culture of call," Brown says. "The more churches empower people to tell their stories of God's amazing grace to call, challenge and change, the more other people may see similar patterns in their lives. These testimonies of life change – whether by video, social media or in person – should be encouraged every Sunday."
Centenary College of Louisiana helps students focus on their call through the Office of Professional Discernment and the Christian Leadership Center. "We seek to help students live meaningful lives at Centenary and beyond by guiding them in asking the big questions such as ‘What is God calling me to do with my life?'" says the Rev. Valerie Robideaux, director of professional discernment and chaplain.
"One-on-one conversation is essential," says Robideaux. The center uses books and personality assessments "as conversation starters that allow students to access language about their skills and dreams. We are there to listen and ask the deeper questions that help them discover and articulate their sweet spot – namely the intersection of what they love doing, what they are good at doing and what needs they are passionate about meeting."
The center uses classes in Christian formation and servant leadership, small groups, internships in the community and discussions of faith to equip students for a life of service as Christian leaders. "While some students discern a call into pastoral ministry," Robideaux says, "many others feel called to medicine, community development, music, counseling or business. All students in the (Christian Leadership Center) are asked to relate their individual story to the larger story of God."
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.
Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, November–December, 2015.