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When God calls kids

26 June 2024 By David Guretzki

Often God uses adults to support that call. (Aussi disponible en français)

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I was around 10 years old when I was the narrator for a Christmas play in my little home church. In the lead up to the big event, Mom spent hours coaching me to read the lines with expression, volume and clarity.

On production night I perched up on a little stool – too short to see over the podium – and proudly, if nervously, delivered my lines.

Though I don’t remember who she was, a woman came up to me and said something that would have an immeasurable impact on me. Putting a hand on my shoulder, she said, “I think you’re going to be a preacher.”

I don’t know if she intended to speak prophetically to me, but I do know the spiritual substance of what she said came true. At age 18 I received a clear call from God to gospel ministry, and since 22 I’ve served full-time in vocational ministry. To this day that woman’s words remain tucked away in the depths of my heart. I hope God will reward her for saying what she said.

Scripture records many instances of God using children to accomplish special callings. Think of Samuel, Esther, David, Josiah, Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Mary, John the Baptist, and the Apostles – all who were likely children or teenagers when they responded to God. And of course we can’t forget the account of 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, affirming the eternal call of the Father on his life.

Biblically it’s clear God calls kids. We adults would do well to cultivate spiritual sensitivity to how we can encourage them to discern their callings and then to have courage to speak into their lives. Our approach should start from knowing Christian kids aren’t just potential disciples but are already serving Christ’s kingdom. As Jesus says, the “kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Kids, like us, need encouragement. Various EFC research projects on faith formation in children and teens reveal how important it is for kids to have adult spiritual influences, other than their own parents, in their lives.

With that in mind, consider the kids in your sphere of influence – the inquisitive child in your Sunday school class or youth group, the natural encourager on a team you coach, the grandchildren, nieces, nephews and family friends who keenly share their faith. Perhaps there is a young orator, artist or musician in your church. We need to take note and also go out of our way to let them know that we notice.

In the last 18 months I’ve talked to more than 30 denominational presidents, and it’s been a joy to hear how God is (still) at work in the Church! But I’ve also heard many share their concern about looming shortages of pastoral candidates, with several using the word “crisis” to describe what they’re seeing. As my research colleague Rick Hiemstra pointed out last issue (“Waking up to the Pastor Shortage,” May/Jun 2024), the Canadian evangelical church may well need over 600 pastors per year in the next 12 years just to deal with retirement attrition.

It’s a hallmark of evangelical theology that every Christian has a ministry, a special grace or gift that Jesus has apportioned to us (Ephesians 4:7). However, a downside of such a theology is that in emphasizing the universality of ministry for all Christians, we may have unintentionally downplayed that there are some God may be calling to give their lives in service to Christ through vocational ministry.

Yes, everyone has a ministry, but not everyone is called to be a church planter, missionary, evangelist, pastor or teacher (Ephesians 4:11). And of course, some of these specially called are kids in our midst.

Here’s where adult Christians can come in. While we should do our utmost to encourage kids to become fruitful disciples of Jesus, some may stand out as those God is leading toward vocational ministry. Several leaders have shared with me how many pastors in their denomination testify to being called to ministry before they became teenagers, some as early as age five or six.

God still speaks and calls kids. But like Eli did with Samuel (1 Samuel 3), sometimes adults need to encourage kids to be ready to listen to the Lord’s voice. Whether God leads them to vocational ministry, home or marketplace, our encouragement can be part of the process of them discerning God’s words to them, especially as we teach them the Scriptures.

Let’s take every opportunity to plant spiritual seeds in kids’ hearts and minds. Who knows? Maybe this may help meet the crisis of looming pastoral shortages. More importantly, God may use a few well-chosen words to spark an outpouring of the Spirit in our kids to lead us to renewal in the Church.

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