A new youth program launched by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board is working alongside churches to help teenagers who feel called into ministry overcome societal, emotional and personal barriers to answering God's call in their lives.
Founded in early 2021, The Called to Ministry Initiative provides mentorship to teens ages 14 to 18 who feel called to be pastors, evangelists or ministry leaders.
So far, about 12 to 15 teenagers have been attending the online program since its inception.
"There is a lot of openings for youth pastors and ministry leaders that aren't being filled, and we realized we aren't developing teens to go into ministry enough," Chris Trent, who has worked for Georgia Baptist Mission Board for the past nine months as the Next Generation Catalyst ministry leader, told The Christian Post.
"We wanted to help play a role in putting an end to this. I'm a product of mentors who have gone before me to help me become who I am today, so I'm passionate about mentoring as well."
Meetings for the program, held over Zoom once a month for hour-long sessions, provide teens with answers to questions about various ministry vocations as they engage in conversations on spiritual and ministerial topics.
The ministry leaders have mapped out 11 foundational topics they say are essential for someone going into ministry to develop in their lives. Each meeting, a new topic is covered.
Every student who participates in the program is responsible for finding their own ministry mentor — either a pastor or someone who understands the components that go into leading a ministry on a full-time or part-time basis.
In addition to attending the program's sessions, teens must meet with their mentors once a month to further discuss the topic discussed in each month's program session.
Trent said the goal is to help teenagers overcome and tackle any obstacles that might delay or deter them from fulfilling their calling to go into ministry.
There are various barriers that teens called to ministry can face, such as feeling outcasted among peers, having a fear of pursuing the calling, a lack of understanding of the calling and lack of guidance or support in pursuing a calling into full-time or part-time ministry.
"Going into ministry is not very common," he said. "It's counter-cultural and it's not like public schools are addressing this as something youth should have as career goals."
"I'm not saying that all churches are like this, but it's not that common for churches to help provide guidance to youth about answering a calling into ministry," Trent added. "And other times, teens are the only ones in their friend groups considering this calling, which also presents challenges."
Many churches have stopped asking their youth to consider a future in ministry, and in some cases, family members are a barrier in the pursuit to answering God's call, according to Trent.
"Many churches have just stopped calling out the called," he said. "Sometimes parents can be an obstacle — not necessarily because they are against their children going into ministry but because they occasionally lack understanding of what the calling is."
Doubt and fear are also leading causes that can derail or delay a youth's desire to pursue a career in ministry as a young adult, Trent said.
"If a teen feels a calling, but they don't have anyone or any resources to understand their calling and they don't know what school to go to or what major to do, they might encounter a roadblock of doubt or fear," he said.
"A lot of times, people who have this calling don't enter into it until way later in life due to doubt about if they are qualified enough or fears about if working in ministry will be able to provide them with enough financial stability and comfort. And so, we want to challenge this and make teens approach doubt and fear head-on so they can answer the call."
The program discusses what it means to be in ministry and how to prepare for the calling.
Trent said he accepted Christ as his Savior in his senior year of high school in 1987. He said that answering his call into ministry did not come without guidance from his youth pastor at the time.
"I didn't even know that ministry could be a career until my youth pastor helped me to understand what to do to prepare for the calling," Trent recounted. "The first example of a mentorship relationship is Jesus and how He mentored His 12 disciples. Also, Scripture shows how Paul led Timothy through mentorship. In any career, it's important to have people to show you the ropes and accomplish goals."
Under the direction of his pastor, Trent attended a private, Baptist institution University of Mobile in Alabama and later attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas for seminary school.
"We don't think we are rescuing teens because there is no guidance that exists out there. In every church, there's someone who can help a young person navigate what it means to be in ministry," he said.
"And that's why we encourage them to find a mentor. Because we know this exists."
He said that The Called to Ministry Initiative is just a "starting point" to encourage youth to reach out to mentors in their church.
"Many teens don't know where they should start once they are called," Trent said. "We are working alongside churches for this mission to help these teens begin to navigate their calling."
The ministry also teaches teens that "ministry leaders and pastors are held to a higher standard in the overall Body of Christ."
"One of our lessons talks about having a ministry plan, how they currently live their life, preparing for the call and how they spend time with the lord," Trent said.
Trent hopes to expand the ministry to college students and young adults in their early 20s and provide participants opportunities to network and engage in hands-on ministry experiences.
"We hope to help more older young adults who feel called to ministry and we are having conversation about how to do that," he concluded. "We hope to eventually connect participants to churches to allow them to have additional connections and opportunities to serve."