By Pastor Blair Lundborg
Discernment. According to Webster, discernment is “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure”. It’s more than just making a decision. There are many things in life that have been decided for us already. We did not, for example, decide on who our parents will be, where, or when we were born. It has been decided.
What we do with the hand we’ve been dealt is discernment. How we steward the gifts and abilities God has given us is discernment. Most of us have had help with this important formation experience along the way. Some of us have helped others in their discernment.
Graduations are just about complete for the class of 2016. In stadiums, auditoriums, and gymnasiums around the world there have been hopeful young people taking the huge step from classroom to career. They will listen to commencement speeches that speak of them as the hope for the future. Others will challenge them to live up to their potential of making a difference in the world. And then, with a toss of the graduation cap or the flipping of a tassel, the students will begin the next chapter of their lives.
The process of discernment began long before these young people marched across the stage to pick up their diploma. And discernment will continue to be a part of their journey as life unfolds. Sometimes discernment comes through the school of hard knocks. Other times it comes from a pat on the back from an encouraging mentor.
Ask a child “what they want to be when they grow up” and you’ll hear answers like “a firefighter, astronaut, teacher, etc.” Others are whispering suggestions in our ear or twisting our arms in one direction or another. I don’t know if anyone has actually done the research of comparing our childhood dreams of vocation with what we actually end up doing with our lives. I suspect the odds are quite low based on the number of firefighters and astronauts that are actually doing the job.
Do you remember your answer to the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I don’t. But I do remember those who whispered words of encouragement in my ear to consider ministry as an option. I didn’t listen at first. I’m not sure I could imagine myself in ministry. My father was a pastor, so I was familiar with job, maybe even too familiar. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do what I saw my Dad doing. But people continued to whisper their words of encouragement.
Interestingly, it was not my Dad who did the encouraging. He was careful not to pressure me one way or another. Those who had the most impact on my faith formation were the adults who made an effort to get to know me. There was Hazel, the study hall monitor at my junior high. I had a hard time keeping quiet for 60 minutes at a time so Hazel would sit with me chatting about my hopes and dreams. There was my football coach. We both knew I would never make much of a football player but Coach encouraged me to explore the other gifts God had given me. My high school choir director thought I should pursue a career in music. If not that, he thought I could use my musical ability in the church in some shape or form. He was right. My love for music has come in handy.
Who are you whispering words of encouragement to these days? I mean beyond your immediate family. What significant relationships do you have with the young people in your congregation or neighborhood? If there are not many young people sitting in your pews, why not invite one or two to join you? Seek out those in whom you see the gifts of ministry. Make it a point to be an active part of at least one young person’s faith formation.
Consider this: 50% of actively serving pastors are over the age of 50. Only 10% of currently serving pastors are under the age of 35. Many of you have heard me quote those statistics before. You’ll probably hear me say it again. It’s no secret that the people sitting in our pews and standing in our pulpits are getting older. Only we can do something to change that.
The church needs to be intentional, deliberate, and passionate about raising up young leaders for ministry. How will you help? Think of someone you might encourage in discerning the call to ministry. Think of one young person you know who has a gift you know God can use. And then, let them know about it, perhaps more than once.