Connor was a popular high school senior in Decatur interested in joining a discipleship group at Chick-fil-A led by his student minister. At first he didn’t take it seriously. But a pep talk from then-student minister Larry Hyche changed everything.
Connor began to grow spiritually. Then he went to college and started discipling others. Finally, a summer working at a Christian camp convinced Connor he was called to ministry. Today he is a campus minister in South Carolina.
Connor is typical of many Christian college students, said Hyche, who served 20 years in local church ministry before his current assignment as men’s spiritual development specialist for the Alabama State Board of Missions. As college students consider their future careers many wonder whether they are called to ministry, and Hyche wants to help them answer that question.
“I’ve seen more students at least start the conversation about the call to ministry in the last 10 years,” he noted. “I think there’s more of an awareness of the need for workers.”
An increase in collegians entering ministry is needed — according to the Barna Group, the median age of U.S. Protestant pastors jumped from 44 to 54 between 1992 and 2017. Over the same period the percentage of pastors under 40 dropped from 33 to 15.
The pool to replace those aging ministers appears to be shrinking — two-thirds of pastors (69%) say it’s becoming more difficult to find mature young Christians who want to enter vocational ministry, Barna reported.
Last summer the Southern Baptist Convention took a step to fill the gap. As part of Vision 2025, SBC messengers affirmed a goal to increase the total number of ministry workers on the field through a focus on “calling out the called” and preparing them to serve.
Hyche hopes more Alabama college students will enter ministry as part of that emphasis.
The first step to discerning a ministry call is differentiating between a passion to minister and God’s leading to enter ministry as a vocation, Hyche asserted, noting they are not the same things.
“Every Christian is supposed to be involved in serving the Lord actively. That’s the general call or universal call to ministry. [But] don’t mistake the healthy Christian life for a call to ministry.”
When a believer senses he or she is called to vocational ministry, Hyche noted, there are several ways to confirm it:
- Consider whether the work of ministry brings peace.
- Make sure there is a passion for ministry.
- Listen for others to confirm the call, especially spiritual people with whom you have close relationships.
- Verify that the Holy Spirit consistently repeats the call.
- Fast and pray. “Get away with God to confirm the call,” Hyche said.
After a believer senses confirmation, preparation is key, beginning with ensuring there is spiritual growth and service, Hyche said. Volunteering is an important way to determine the specific ministry area into which God is leading.
He said he knew he was called to ministry as a young man.
“I was just trying to discern which area,” Hyche recalled. “So a mentor recommended I take every missions opportunity I could physically go on. So I did. It was very sound, practical wisdom.”
Once the called believer identifies a specific ministry area in which to work, shadowing someone in that area can be helpful.
“Pick their brain,” Hyche urged.
A trusted mentor is another important part of preparation.
Also, if a future minister is in a dating relationship, they should ask whether the boyfriend or girlfriend is open to ministry.
College students “are potentially about to be engaged,” Hyche said. “If they’re wrestling with a call to ministry and they think they have found the one person that they’re going to marry, that needs to be brought up in a conversation.”
Meghan was another student who discerned a ministry call under Hyche’s guidance. In high school she was smart, musically inclined and good at illustrating biblical principles. In college she began serving in ministry, then discerned her call.
“She’s full-time in children’s ministry and is now in her second church,” Hyche said.
For more information about vocational ministry Hyche recommends reading “Is God Calling Me?” by Jeff Iorg, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry” by Jason Allen and “The Call to Ministry,” published by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
All six SBC seminaries train students in a broad array of ministry fields.