October 26, 2022
East Texas Baptist University hosted its eighth annual Calling Conference on Wednesday, October 26, for ETBU students called to vocational ministry. The conference provided students with a deeper understanding of identifying and pursuing their callings with opportunities to learn from experienced ministry professionals.
“I am so glad that I went to the Calling Conference because it gave me clarity on what I might be called to in the future,” sophomore child development major Haven Chance said. “I have been considering going into children’s ministry, but I have been kind of scared of doing something like that. The speakers gave me a peace of mind with all their wisdom, and I do think that I want to pursue the pathway of becoming a children’s minister. My biggest takeaway from the conference is to continue to seek out the Lord and His Word. The Calling Conference is so vital for the students here at ETBU because it gives us an opportunity to come with an open heart and hear what God has to say about our callings through the speakers and their experiences.”
Special guests included Dr. David Hardage, Executive Director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT); David Berryhill, Worship Minister at First Baptist Church of Kilgore; Ryan Welch, Minister to Students at First Baptist Church of Tyler; Meredith Hanna, Minister to Children at First Baptist Church of Shreveport; and April Franklin Ott, Senior NextGen Mobilization Strategist for International Mission Board.
“When the days get hard, remember why God called you to ministry,” Ott said. “Ministry is about the people that God has brought along your path. Remember what He is doing in and through their lives, and make a file of the good things to find encouragement.”
While the Calling Conference is intended for students who feel drawn to vocational ministry, it also provides an opportunity for students who may feel drawn to ministry but are still unsure of their future career path. Dr. Hardage spoke to the entire campus community during the morning’s chapel service, where he encouraged everyone not to conform to the ways of the world but instead shine a light for Christ.
“The temptation is real to adopt the way that the nations think,” Dr. Hardage said during chapel. “There are all kinds of influencers our there: politics, entertainers, athletes. Precious few of them are going to point you to the things of God. It starts with the way you think, but it continues with the way you speak.”
Prior to his keynote address, ETBU President Dr. J Blair Blackburn and ETBU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Sanders presented Dr. Hardage with a personalized ETBU jersey, a signed first edition copy of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and a replica of Max Greiner’s Great Commission statue in honor of Hardage’s upcoming retirement as leader of Texas Baptists.
“We have all been called to a life of obedience to the will of God,” Dr. Hardage added. “There is a collective will of God for all of us, but specifically for you. His Word is the calling. This is the Calling Conference, and each of you has been called to mingle with the nations. Not to adopt their ways, but to engage and interact in a way that is gracious, kind, and caring.”
Following chapel, participants attended a luncheon where they heard from the panel of guests in a question-and-answer style conversation.
“What I would have liked to know when I was 20 years old is that the skills I learned and perfected in college were actually a small percentage of what practicing ministry actually looks like,” Berryhill shared. “Working full-time in ministry, I learned very quickly that it was less about the things I love, like music, and more about loving people and shepherding sheep.”
“I want to encourage you to always go back to your calling,” Welch added. “The days may get tough, but you can always go back to the fact that ministry is what God called you to do.”