In November 2022 at the North Carolina West (NCW) District Board of Administration (DBA) meeting, District Superintendent Jerry Lumston expressed an all too regular problem he recognized his district was facing: a shortage of pastors. One of his DBA members and senior pastor of New Covenant Church, Rev. Josh Dawalt, resonated with Rev. Lumston’s perspective: “from his seat, he sees a fairly steep decline in applications for open positions.”
Rev. Lumston raised the question, “How do we raise up our own leaders?” There was universal recognition that each of them had been called to ministry at some kind of youth event. After this realization, Rev. Lumston stated, “There is not a shortage of the Lord calling people to the ministry, there is a shortage of us recognizing the call in others and supporting and equipping them to pursue that call.” Spurred on by that conversation, Rev. Dawalt decided to do something about it and take an intentional step to recognize and equip students that the Lord has been calling to ministry.
As the district leader in charge of Next Gen ministry, Rev. Dawalt is influential in NCW’s annual middle school and high school teen camps. He gave the 2023 camp leaders permission to ask the speakers for each week to intentionally give an invitation to vocational ministry. If they would give an invitation and God would prompt a response, Rev. Dawalt guaranteed that he would take care of the immediate and long-term follow-up.
The response to the invitation across two weeks of camp was powerful as over 60 students accepted a call into vocational ministry. Immediate follow-up consisted of gathering those students together, encouraging them to tell their youth pastor and get involved in their local church, and to be attentive to a forthcoming district event.
Rev. Lumston acknowledged the necessity of Rev. Dawalt and his team following up immediately with those students: “I was saved and called into ministry at a youth camp. I had no idea what to do next.”
The subsequent district event took the form of a 24-hour retreat hosted at Victory Mountain Camp in mid-September. Throughout the event, students learned both conceptual and practical information to help them pursue their call to ministry. Rev. Dawalt taught on “The four things I wish I had known when I was called.” Another youth pastor described the different roles that one might take on in ministry beyond preaching or being on stage. Students were led through a survey of various biblical examples where God called a person into ministry. At the end of the event, students were equipped with “A Call of a Lifetime” written by Keith Drury, a spiritual gifts assessment and encouraged to get involved in serving within their local church. There is also a plan forming to take those students on a visit to Southern Wesleyan University.
Rev. Dawalt was initially discouraged by the 11 students attending relative to the 60 who responded from camp a few months ago. But after the event, he recognized the positive impact that a lower number had for the students. “If there had been a lot more kids, the pace would have had to be faster, but the lower number allowed for deeper conversation,” said Rev. Dawalt.
The impact on students is not only going to bear fruit in the future but is bearing fruit right now. Landon Brown, a student who attended, said, “The best word I can think of about this weekend is simply ‘clarifying.’ God was so present at the retreat and guided each one of us. Because of that, I know for a fact that I am called into ministry.”
Rev. Lumston recognized the key role Rev. Dawalt filled in making this event happen. He is thankful for the immediate response Rev. Dawalt and his team had to those students at teen camp.
Rev. Dawalt was grateful for the district’s support. “Jerry has been extremely supportive. He’s given us a lot of freedom to operate in what we believe God is calling us to do. They are supportive financially and they are championing us.”
This fall retreat was the first step, which is now to be evaluated and built upon in the future. Rev. Dawalt states, “This is a grassroots movement that we want to see fruit from and be valuable to the district and denomination.”
In Rev. Dawalt’s estimation, the big win was making it happen. Next year’s event is already being planned and will be ready for promotion at the 2024 summer teen camps. He anticipates eventually handing the event off to more talented and creative people. He humbly stated, “I’m just the first guy that said yes.”
Jacob Gibson is the senior pastor at LifeSpring Wesleyan Church, Richmond, Indiana, and graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University and Wesley Seminary, Marion, Indiana.