God’s call on my life is to encourage the call. It’s a call that came one December night in 1984 as I was walking alone on a deserted street in Urbana, Illinois. I had just attended the last session of the day at the InterVarsity missionary conference. Despite having just worshiped with 18,000 persons, I was discouraged and I felt completely alone.
I had spent the afternoon talking with mission agencies looking for a path toward ministry. Could I work in agriculture? After all, I knew a lot about milking cows. I was particularly interested in going to China. Although I was serving as an assistant pastor in my home church, attending seminary seemed an impossible dream. So I went looking for an alternative to being a pastor.
Except every recruiter responded to my inquiries with: “You’re too old.” I was 35. Or, “You’re too married.” (Translation: We only take single people.) Or, “You need more education.” That’s the very issue I was trying to circumvent. I didn’t think it was possible to ever get to seminary.
Then a window opened. It was not an audible voice, but it was an impression so strong, it’s as though I heard God speak. The message was this: “You may not go yourself, but you can spend the rest of your life encouraging others to go.” That set me free.
A few years later God miraculously opened the door for me to attend seminary. My home congregation, Bethesda Lutheran Brethren Church in Eau Claire, WI, sent me to seminary and paid my tuition. As a pastor, I still followed God’s call that came on that December night. I must have asked 250 confirmation students the question, “Have you considered being a pastor or a missionary?” I kept a prayer list of those who said “yes.”
In my current role at Lutheran Brethren Seminary, I still ask the same question when visiting our congregations. We have a database of more than 100 people from across North America who have said “yes,” or whose names have come to us from church leaders or website inquiries.
But answering “yes” does not mean they are ready. Most need mentoring and encouragement. They need someone who affirms their gifts and helps them find a path forward into ministry.
Last fall I realized that I needed others to help with encouraging those being called. So LBS asked Rev. Mike Natale of Rhode Island and Rev. Mike Hussey of Montana to each spend a few hours a week as Ministry Call Mentors, staying connected with some of the contacts in their regions. Pastor Jeremy Osterwalder of Camrose, Alberta has just joined their ranks. What follows is a summary of a conversation with Pastor Mike Hussey.
What made you decide to serve as a Ministry Call Mentor?
When I reflect on my call to ministry, I think of all the people in my life who gave me opportunities to do ministry, whether it was teaching a Bible study or even preaching a sermon when the pastor was out of town. When I had those opportunities, there were always members of the congregation who would give bits of encouragement. “I think you might be called to this,” or “you might be gifted in this way.” Without those people encouraging me, I don’t think I ever would have ended up at the seminary or in the ministry. I would have done something else.
Why? Because when I look at myself, I mostly see my sin and I don’t see a person who is gifted for ministry. To hear the call encouraged from outside of myself is really important. As a Ministry Call Mentor I get to step in and be one of those people for someone else. I get to say, “Hey, maybe God is calling you to this. Let me pray with you about it.”
Was there someone who stood out as an encourager?
Ray Qualley. When I was called to be the youth pastor in Sidney, Montana, I was this weird young guy with gauged earrings and sporting a Mohawk part of the time. My appearance didn’t stop Ray. Every time I got to preach, this senior citizen would pull me aside between the same two pews and tell me what a blessing it was to hear me and that I needed to go to seminary. I do not believe I would ever have gone if it were not for Ray.
Share an example of a conversation you have had as a Ministry Call Mentor.
There was a guy named Mitch on the database of contacts that you sent me. I introduced myself to him in a text and told him that I would love to set up a time and have a conversation about what God was doing in his life. Mitch remembered me from the Western Region Convention, and I remembered him too, though not until I heard his voice later. One of the first things he asked me about was my handlebar mustache which I had let grow specifically for Convention that year, and that question served to verify to him that I really was who I said I was.
Once he was sure it was me, he just started opening up. He had been struggling for a very long time about whether or not he was called to ministry. He was going through the same emotions that I had experienced. “Was I really called? How could I really know what God wanted me to do? Was I good enough to enter the ministry?”
We had this wonderful back and forth text conversation until things got really serious. Then he gave me a phone call. We chatted through what God was doing in his life and what God was laying on his heart. It was amazing to be able to connect in that moment. Who knows if he will ever end up at seminary? But I got to share in that moment when he was wrestling with the call of God. I got to be the person who could encourage him, bear the burden with him, help him process it, and pray with him.
* * * * * *
Do you ever wonder if God is calling you? One of the LBS Ministry Call Mentors would be very glad to connect with you and pray with you about God’s next steps in his call on your life.
Dr. David Veum is President of Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.