God is still calling college students to vocational ministry. Just a few months ago I was ministering in Jacksonville Florida. I simply asked the group of High School seniors before me if they’d like to publicly surrender to the call of ministry. I was specific. I said, maybe you believe God is calling you: to the foreign mission field, or to the local church, or to serve in Christian education, or to dedicate yourself to medical missions, or to engage the corporate world via marketplace ministries, or to lead a Christian camp, or to help translate the Bible for unreached people groups, or to open a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or rehabilitation center, or to be a Chaplain in the military, or, maybe to do what I do and minister to college students. Then, I was completely quiet. I let the words sit. And, one by one students came forward. Then two by two they came. Before I knew it, 21 students came forward publicly surrendering to the call of ministry. A few months before this experience, almost the same exact thing happened at a school assembly in Indian Trail, North Carolina. And, a few months before that, at the school where I serve as one of the campus ministers, in Tigerville, SC, one of my students publicly surrendered to the call of ministry at a totally random midweek gathering.
I’ve read the same negative articles that you’ve read. Seminary enrollment is in decline. There are more ministry job openings than ministry candidates. Our church has been without a music minister and youth minister for over a year. Today the average age of a pastor in the USA is 57. And, the church at large is not only suffering from empty pews but from empty pulpits too. With constant gloomy messaging like this, it’s easy to get discouraged. And, to make matters worse, I know the reports are true. About once a week I get a call from a church, camp, non-profit, to make a recommendation for some ministry job opening. I take these requests seriously, as I can honestly feel these search committees’ prayerful desire to better serve their people by properly staffing their ministries. But, what am I to do when there are no names to recommend? I am no expert, but I want to humbly offer a strategy for calling out the called within your college ministry.
I believe the greatest tool a college minister has for calling out the called is ministry mobilization. Here are the areas where I intentionally mobilize my students in order to reveal, refine, and reinforce a student’s calling to vocational ministry.
First, I mobilize my students to serve within the local church.
It seems so basic, but this mobilization effort is often missed by college ministers. Campus ministers can get so caught up with the programs and activities that they have for their students on campus that they forget about what God is doing in and through the local churches off campus. For this reason, my team and I make a concerted effort to highlight the importance of the local church week in and week out with our students. For example, we host a church fair the first week of classes each year. This past summer we had 88 partnering churches who gifted our residential students with all sorts of back-to-school goodies (hangers, toilet paper, energy drinks, etc). Hundreds of students found their church home at this event. Additionally, we routinely book guest speakers and guest bands to help lead our weekly gatherings. Who says the campus minister must preach every week? Or that your college musicians have to lead worship every week? Cooperating with the local church isn’t a burden, it’s a blessing! Every week we are saying to the students, “If you don’t have a church home – here is my friend (Pastor Bob) and he’d love to connect you with his church family.”
Secondly, we mobilize students to do ministry during their school breaks.
I use the acronym “ACMIE” to guide in this mobilization effort. Let me explain.
The “A” stands for Apply.
Sometimes I say the “A” stands for the phrase – “APPLYING does not mean ACCEPTING! So Apply!” I’m big on stressing the importance of ministry exposure. Trying new things is certainly one of the most joyous parts of the college experience. But, little to nothing happens in my student’s spiritual life if they leave my office and they don’t actually apply what’s being prescribed. The “A” part of this acronym is critical. Getting a student to understand the importance of applying is where we must gain ground. This teaching opens the door for the remaining four letters – CMIE.
The “C” stands for camp.
We try to mobilize every single freshman to serve at a Christian camp over their summer break, with very few exceptions. I could write a book on the importance of this first step, but for now let me say this. When your students return from working a Christian Camp between their freshman and sophomore year, you will be BLOWN AWAY by the undeniable marks of spiritual growth that have taken place in their lives. Your students will come back with a better work ethic, a better devotional life, more servant-hearted, and more inclined to lead out in whatever capacity needed.
The “M” stands for missions.
We try to mobilize every single sophomore to serve on the mission field during their Fall, Spring, or Summer breaks. I’ve never met a full-time missionary who didn’t first explore their calling on a short-term mission trip. We must mobilize our students to the mission field. This isn’t just important in terms of them gaining cross-cultural competencies, this is the very instruction of our commander and chief – Jesus Christ! We go into all the world and preach the gospel with the full confidence that Jesus himself has sent us on mission. God opens students’ eyes to the importance of missionary work while on the mission field. We must send them out.
The “I” stand for internship.
We try to mobilize every single Junior to intern somewhere in Jesus’ name. For my ministry majors I encourage them to intern at a church or a non-profit. For my business majors I encourage them to intern for a corporation or business. For my art majors I encourage them to put their time in at the studio and on the stage. Interning or serving in a part-time capacity within an organization, while being a student, assists in transitioning and preparing college people for life after college. Students who don’t get this “internship experience” are often anxious on graduation day, as they realize they haven’t stuck their toe in the deep end of the pool and it’s now time to swim.
The ”E” stands for employment.
After graduation we want our students to make a meaningful contribution within our world. Maybe they don’t land the job of their dreams right out of the gate, but we desire to see them confidently exploring their vocational path in accordance with their unique design. Helping a student refine his or her resume, or completing a reference form, or writing a letter of recommendation isn’t beneath the dignity of a college minister. This is our privilege.
Throughout their freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year, I mobilize them to speak with anyone and everyone that I think might be able to help them in exploring their ministerial calling. I share the contacts in my phone with students so often that I feel like I’m a booking agent. If I know a student who is interested in being a missionary and I don’t put them in touch with a missionary – what am I doing? If I know a student who is interested in being in the media ministry and I don’t connect him or her with one of the hundreds of churches in the area who need a sound guy – who am I really?
Mobilizing students to serve within the local church, work the “ACMIE” process, and to speak with practitioners on the field, are the greatest steps I’ve discovered in calling out the called in my college ministry. A calling untested is a calling untrusted. Students must step out and find out. God is calling. Now, let’s set the table.
Joshua Gilmore is the Director of Community Connection & Ministry Mobilization at North Greenville University in Greenville, SC. You can read more about him and his ministry here: ngu.edu/faculty/joshua-gilmore. You can also follow him on Instagram @pastorjoshuag and the ministry @ngustudentlife.