Discerning God's call

Helpful advice from a regional consultant

By Larry Purcell

Published: March 1, 2021

Those attempting to discern if God is calling them into ministry may wrestle with a number of questions. Larry Purcell, one of seven KBC regional consultants, provides his perspective on some of those questions.

Larry Purcell

What is the role of a pastor in mentoring a man who has answered God's call to ministry?

One of the greatest honors I have had is when someone younger and/or less experienced has come to me and said, "I want your help."

"Coaching" is a term often used today to describe such a process when applied to a sport or even life's decisions. We could learn much from the study of coaching and mentoring.

When I was a young man seeking the Lord's direction for my life, I wanted to make the right decisions. I wanted more than some quick advice — I wanted someone to spend a lot of time with me.

This could be called coaching, but I see it as the process of discipleship and relationship building. I was blessed to have a pastor ask me the right questions and challenge me as I made sure of my calling to the gospel ministry.

The coaching process begins early in a person's spiritual development, such as in small groups and children/youth programs. One of the most critical pieces of this puzzle — too often left out — is relationships with young people moving out of the youth group. I give a 'thank you' to all the churches and pastors who focus on this critical stage of young adults, especially the BCM ministers on many of our university campuses. The pastor can be one of the most critical persons in such a process as he identifies young people who have a strong desire to serve the Lord and take on leadership.

As a pastor, I would see such young people and begin meeting with them. This allowed me to better understand their perspective of life and ministry. I wanted to pair them with an older lead- er to help in areas of ministry needs.

I met with young people often, helping them evaluate their spiritual growth and addressing any concerns. This takes time, but reaps some of the greatest rewards.

What can a church do to foster awareness and to support those called to ministry?

Young adults who have attended church for many years may often be a consumer of what a church offers — but not a giver or doer. Working with other ministry leaders is one of the best ways a church can identify younger leaders. During the latter years of their high school experience, we selected a few key younger leaders who faithfully attended our youth ministry. We set up opportunities for them to serve in VBS or another ministry.

Setting up leadership training prior to them assisting in VBS as a teacher or other areas of ministry was essential. They did not take the lead role, but were assistants with some responsibility. It was amazing to see some of those take hold of opportunities and be encouraged to further explore God's desire for their lives.

The role of a church is to encourage leadership roles for younger persons who strive to become more than attenders of a service, but leaders. As they mature, stay in close contact.

When I read 1 and 2 Timothy or Titus, I see Paul continuing his relationship with these young pastors/leaders. During the 20 years I taught in seminary, I asked many students how closely they stayed in contact with their church or pastor. Very few expressed any relationship with the church or pastor, although each student needed the endorsement of the church and pastor to attend a Southern Baptist seminary. I see this need changing because a young pastor benefits by the continued mentoring and relationship with a pastor.

How can someone be helped to determine what area of ministry they should pursue (pastor, missionary, etc.)?

When I was a young man, I sensed God wanting me to do something for Him. I prayed and sought the Lord by focusing on growing in my study of the Bible. Soon I was cast into the role of being a Sunday School teacher of a young boys class. I was pushed in my study of the Word and prayer life. In my life, I saw the more exposure young people have to the Word, prayer, ministry experiences and mentoring relationships by a trusted leader, the better they know themselves and God's calling. This is a key role for a church and pastor, but also for young people learning their roles in the kingdom of the Lord.

Spurgeon, in Lecture to My Students, expressed calling as both objective and subjective. Objectively, young people struggling with where they are called will be affirmed in their gifting from those they may teach or work with. People will respond to their teaching or preaching the Word, and souls will be saved. This can be an affirmation to anyone making sure of their calling.

The subjective aspect reflects what we read in 1 Tim. 3: "If anyone aspires to be an overseer." I sensed God's call, but wanted to ensure I was in the correct place and right fit. I was trained by the military and exposed to many different cultures and environments, so I first sought the Lord in being a missionary. I did not struggle with this because I did not have any affirmation of this from the Lord. I knew I needed to work as a missionary and help with missions, but did not sense God's calling in the area. I knew rather quickly that God called me to be a pastor.

Going on mission trips is one of the best ways to begin exploring this area. Talk with a missionary on furlough from the mission field. At the KBC we have an area of missions — domestic and international — so connect with one of our mission strategists.

In the SBC, a young person wanting to serve on the mission field or as a church planter is encouraged to have experience as a church pastor. This can be an excellent way for a young person to test God's calling. I have been blessed during all my years in preparing for ministry and serving in a church to have wise men around me that I could call on for counsel. This can be a critical component as you seek confirmation of your specific calling in ministry.

What realities of ministry should a mentor share with someone who says they are called to ministry?

When someone is called and begins the journey of fulfilling the calling to ministry, a good mentor will push back on several areas. A good mentor will get to know the people well enough to see their strengths and weaknesses.

Young preachers typically want to imitate their favorite preachers. This is common as they seek to find their own ministry identity. I often heard the statement, "You look like a preacher." What is that supposed to mean to them and now to me? Finding their identity is critical and some areas a mentor can assist in are looking at their personality, leadership capacity and needs for formal and nonformal means of training.

A mentor does not need training in personality or use of DiSC (a personal assessment tool) to identify someone who is very strong as a leader versus one who is more detail oriented, or one who is more of a team builder or one who works best alone. Helping young leaders work through this critical area can assist them in understanding themselves better and those with whom they work.

If a mentor or young leader desires more help with the DiSC inventory, check with your KBC regional church consultant. You can make a contact by emailing ccr@kybaptist.org.

Understanding one's leadership capacity is helpful. This relates to past skills and training, education, work history and personal desires. A great resource I have used and passed along to pastors is the Jesus on Leadership workbook by Gene Wilkes and Developing the Leaders Around You by John Maxwell. These are available from your regional church consultant as well.

For those in west Kentucky who discern a call, what options do they have as far as education now that Mid-Continent is no longer an option?

For undergraduate work, I attended Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College, later Mid-Continent University, and eventually taught there for nine years.

In research I conducted for Mid-Continent while pursuing a Ph.D., I discovered that 70 percent of all churches in western Kentucky, northwest Tennessee and southern Illinois were pastored by those who either attended or graduated from Mid-Continent.

I am grateful it was available to me and many others. Its closing left a vacuum for a time, but the need has been successfully filled by online training at other schools. Some of our KBC/SBC schools are Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Training should not be a one time, 'got my piece of paper' and move on mentality. A godly leader must be a life-long learner. Some are called into ministry much later in life, others are much younger. Formal education is available today at the touch of your fingertips. Online training can be sought through our Bible colleges and seminaries.

Some sense God's desire for them to study on campus, which is a better fit for their manner of learning. Others are more motivated to learn by attend- ing online classes and may occasionally go to a college or seminary campus.

In the area of nonformal learning, KBC offers many opportunities. You can attend seminars taught on leading mission trips, working with disaster relief teams and others. Regional church consultants, as well as others at the KBC, offer local training opportunities for a church, group of pastors or one- on-one mentoring in leading church revitalization, change and conflict in churches, deacon ministry, discipleship, etc. The key is to not sit on the sideline and miss the multiple opportunities available to us all, whether young or old, new or experienced.

Mentorship is being required by most schools. If not, seek one out. This personal relationship is essential to all in ministry.

I cannot stress enough how critical the support of your spouse and health of your marriage is to your ministry.On a humorous note, my wife helped me identify my area of ministry. I was trained in the military in jungle warfare and explored the possibility of going to New Guinea. I told my wife they just outlawed cannibalism in the area I was reading about. She jokingly said to write often and let her know if I was all right. I knew if God was not calling her, He was not calling me.

Seriously, we talked openly and honestly about my call to ministry and to a church. She has been essential to my work and her support has provided stability in my church work and in the home.

A book I used when teaching the practice of ministry in schools was H.B. London's Pastors at Risk. This is eye opening as to the stresses felt by the pastor's spouse. My wife had apprehensions, having grown up as a preacher's kid.

London's research demonstrated some of the greatest tensions on the wife are time and money. The demands are too many and the financial support is too little as demonstrated in the research.

A pastor must set aside in his weekly schedule a date night or time out with his wife. This time must not be used to take calls or answer texts — set your cell to 'Do Not Disturb.' This simple investment in your wife is not only for your ministry, but for a stronger marriage and more stable home.

Larry Purcell is the west regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.