(Darrin Patrick, Vice President of the Acts 29 Network and lead pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, authored church planter, published by Crossway. With permission, we are sharing from Chapter 2, where he tells the story of his calling to ministry.)
I was sitting in my very first Christian summer camp worship service, and to be honest, I was a little creeped out by the sheer volume of youth group kids in the chapel of this small, denominational Christian college. The college was located on a mountain, and half of its facilities were in Tennessee and half were in Georgia.
We were in the South with a capital S.
I had never been in the South before. Where I grew up, there was a strange combination of Midwestern and Southern culture, which meant that some people were friendly, but most were not. Well, in the South, everyone is nice, or at least they are to your face. The only saving grace of all the “niceness” was that the “Southern ladies” were very friendly, which was good news – not like the gospel is good news, but good news nonetheless. The strangest thing about being in this place was that it seemed that all these kids around me had grown up in church. This was totally bizarre for me because I had not grown up in the church, which means that I was not versed in the nuances of Christian subculture.
I didn’t know the “choruses” or the ridiculous hand motions that seemed to accompany about 80 percent of the “praise songs.”
I didn’t understand how to only appear to be intently listening to the speaker. I wasn’t proficient in the skill of “fake feverish note-taking,” which is a necessary skill when you want to appear like you are paying attention but really need to write a love note to your third girlfriend of your weeklong summer church camp experience. Nevertheless, I was doing my best to ignore a lot of the “youth groupness” of the camp in order to focus on what God was saying to me. This particular Christian camp had a camp pastor. I liked the guy the first time I saw him. First, he was funny. He didn’t seem to take himself that seriously. Secondly, he was 6’7”, well north of 300 pounds, and had played college basketball. I liked the thought of listening to a preacher who could probably give me a run for my money in a fight.
The camp pastor got up and did something that was very unusual for a youth camp (and sadly for many churches, as I now realize). He opened up a Bible.
Now this was a strange thing in and of itself, but he took it to a new level. This humorous, extra-large camp pastor didn’t just use the Bible as a jumping-off point for some teenage felt-needs talk (don’t drink, smoke, chew, or date those who do). He actually taught the Bible verse by verse to teenagers! He had a knack for using sermon illustrations that connected with the dudes in the room, mostly because they always involved sports, hunting, or fishing, which was what most of the guys at this camp were picking as a major in college. He did well at blending good biblical teaching with appropriate contextualization. I remember he was teaching through this wonderful book called Philippians, which was penned by the hand of the Apostle Paul when he was suffering for Jesus in a rat-infested prison with Roman guards. Toward the end of camp, he was preaching from Philippians 3:12-17, and it was at that point that I knew God was calling me to serve him in vocational ministry.
God internally spoke to me from this passage, saying that I should not only strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing toward the goal and forgetting what lies behind like every other Christian, but that I must also imitate Paul by spending the rest of my life suffering for and serving the church. I had no idea what that looked like, nor any idea what it would require of me, but I accepted God’s call that day.
Discerning the Call
Your call to ministry does not have to be like my call or anybody else’s call, for that matter. In fact, one of the most interesting features of calling is that whether you look in the pages of the Bible or the annals of church history, God rarely calls two people in the exact same way. It is very important not to standardize the calling experience. Sometimes, it is a dramatic Damascus Road experience. Other times, it is more of an inward pull. But however your sense of calling has developed, it is imperative to recognize that you must have a clear sense of calling before you enter ministry.