Once upon a time there was a boy by the name of Todd. He attended a church I once pastored. Although he came from a severely dysfunctional family, Todd showed signs of being more than just a survivor. His tender young face projected a gentle spirit which witnessed to the Spirit of Christ within him.
Todd was a Christian. He had invited Jesus into his heart in Children's Church. His compliant manner and interest in spiritual things was most uncommon. As I watched him grow it was as if the Lord was giving me eyes to see Todd in the ministry. "He'd make a great pastor," I thought.
I didn'tkeep my secret sightings to myself. I shared them with Todd from time to time. "Do you think God may want you to be a pastor someday?" I'd probe. "You have the makings of a great one. You have a heart for the Lord and a sensitivity toward people." "Do you really think so, Pastor Greg?" he smiled knowingly.
I also seeded the idea with Todd's mother with whom he came to church. Although she brought him to worship, Kaye was not what you would call a growing Christian. She had a love for alcohol and relationships with men (other than her husband). Kaye didn't take my observation seriously.
"You can't be serious pastor?" she would chide. "My son, a pastor? Hal I think Toddy wants to be a truck driver like his dad."
Because of the influences at home I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that Todd and his mother quit coming to church about the time he entered high school. Todd became infatuated with a girl at school who was not a Christian. The values he observed at home began to take a toll over a bridge that would not lead to the future I believed God had for Todd. I began to grieve for what never would be. My dreams for Todd were dead.
I didn't see Todd for several years. Occasionally [would wonder about his whereabouts. But my ministry took me to new places and new faces. Then last week Todd surprised me with a visit. His eyes lacked the gleam they once had flashed. His face seemed as hard toward life as his heart was toward the things of God. My joy in seeing Todd was overshadowed by regrets and why's. My mind raced to a quote I'd encountered in Barlett's "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these . . . 'it might have been'."
So who will be the pastors of tomorrow? Have you ever wondered that? And if you have, have you ever wondered how those God is calling into full-time Christian ministry will be encouraged to respond to His call? I have. And not just because of the Todds God continues to bring into my church. After all, I am one of those youngsters who heard God's call and responded. As I reflected on why I am in the ministry today, the following surfaced as significant factors:
1. I was loved and accepted by the people in my life that modeled Christian ministrybefore my eyes. The value that these Christians placed on doing God's work made an impact on me because of the value they placed on me. I felt significant when. I was around these people. As a result, when they affirmed my spiritual gifts I took their comments seriously. My ears were already angled in their direction.
2. The leaders of the church in which I grew up let me hang around while they did their work. I was invited to accompany them on hospital calls and nursing home visits as well as watch while the bulletins were run off on the noisy, greasy mimeograph machine (what's that?).
3. I attended a church that was fun. Going to church was a "get-to," not a "have-to." The music was alive. The Sunday School teachers cared for the kids and expressed their love beyond an hour's commitment once a week. My pastor called me by name. In addition, there was an electricity of excitement whenever the people of our church gathered together for worship, fellowship, or at a family restaurant after service. Church was a positive experience. I didn't want to miss (even if I thought the sermons boring).
4. I was given opportunities to be involved from an early age. I was allowed to distribute hymnals, pass out bulletins, play my saxophone, sing a solo, give announcements, usher, sing in the choir, (and by the time I was in high school) preach my first sermon. I had plenty of chances to test my abilities and interests in what I construed to be the life of the pastor.
5. The church I grew up in always challenged its young people with the possibility that God might be calling them individually to serve Him in a full-time ministry. Be it our own pastor or a guest preacher, there were regular invitations from the pulpit to consecrate our lives for service as pastors or missionaries if God would so chose. The reason I knew God was calling me was based on what I had been taught. I knew God calls people into the ministry and hence was listening.
6. There was never any pressure applied whenever I verbalized my interest in wanting to become a pastor. Yes, there was a lot of affirmation and validation of my abilities. Yes, people would often say I'd be a great minister. My pastor and key people within the church were always willing to answer questions that I had about the ministry. They encouraged me to seek the Lord's will and pray about my future. They would even pray with me. But they never used strong-arm tactics or laid a guilt trip on me. I always knew that what I would eventually do with my Life was a decision left up to the Lord and me.
I can't help but wonder to what degree the absence of one or more of these factors accounted for Todd's response (or lack of one). Although my heart is heavy whenever I think of Todd, it is eternally grateful whenever I think of those the Lord used in my young life to help me hear His call.
Perhaps God desires to use you to create an environment in your church where tomorrow's pastors and missionaries will emerge. If so, what little life will you look at a wee bit differently next Sunday morning? And how will that new perspective affect what you do or what you say?