October 20, 2023
East Texas Baptist University hosted its annual Calling Conference on Wednesday, October 18, for students called to vocational ministry. The conference gives students the opportunity to learn from current ministers serving in various ministry fields as they discuss the call on their own lives and how that calling is informing their current ministries.
"Today was our largest Calling Conference since its inception eight years ago with 116 students in attendance," Dr. Thomas Sanders, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said. "I love the way ETBU students pursue God's calling in such concrete and tangible ways. Knowledge and experience proceed a call, and having individuals like our panel and keynote speaker provide students' real-life experiences and knowledge to aid them in call clarification, and with the typical struggles of ministry they may face. God's call is progressive, He does not unveil all that He wants us to do in one instance. Our job is to respond in obedience to the call even if we don't have all the information we want in advance. He calls. We go."
Dr. Raquel Contreras, CEO/Publisher of the Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso, served as the keynote speaker for the Calling Conference and spoke in ETBU’s weekly chapel service. Dr. Contreras is a native of Chile and has a world of ministry and mission experience both in Chile and in the United States. In addition, Dr. Randal Lyle from Meadowridge Baptist Church in Fort Worth led the Pastoral Ministry breakout session. Walter Ballou from Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler spoke about Youth Ministry. David Butts from First Baptist Church Arlington talked about his ministry to children, and Kyle Grizzard from New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview led the Worship Ministry breakout. Dr. Stephen Stookey, Texas Baptists Director of Theological Education, also shared his wisdom and experience with those who attended.
"Everyone needs to take moments in their life to stop and reflect on what God has done for them," Dr. Contreras said. "The Calling Conference allows students to stop and set the school work and business aside and think about what God has called them to do and to reflect on their lives and how God is at work."
The Calling Conference is intended for students who feel drawn to vocational ministry, and it also provides an opportunity for students who may be considering a career in ministry but are still deciding their future career path.
Dr. Contreras addressed the entire ETBU student body during chapel, where she encouraged them to go where the Lord leads them in whatever vocation they choose.
"God calls us and guides us," Dr. Contreras said. "He takes us to places we cannot imagine. What are you going to do with your life? In whatever field you choose, when Jesus calls you, He will give you what you need. So, you must get up and go!"
Following chapel, Calling Conference participants attended a luncheon where they heard from Dr. Stookey and a panel of guests in a question-and-answer style conversation.
"This conference is a great opportunity to encourage students to follow their passion, follow their gifts to serve God," Dr. Stookey said. "We're starting to see a significant string of student populations who are really seeking God's will for leadership in their life and for points of service. Students are using a great deal of creativity in discerning their call and what that looks like from day to day. I think the big takeaway from the ETBU’s Calling Conference is to be faithful today. Not so much worry about what am I going to be a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, but who am I going to be in relationship to Christ today? Tomorrow and the next day will take care of itself."
The Calling Conference at East Texas Baptist University offers students a valuable opportunity to gain practical insights into the logistics of ministry work. Through group discussions and one-on-one interactions with seasoned ministry professionals, attendees can pose questions, fostering a deeper understanding of the field.
"This is my second year attending the Calling Conference, and it has been such a beneficial time to reevaluate the call to ministry and draw closer to the Lord," junior Christian Ministry major Bailee Kitchen said. "ETBU prepares its students well for their call and ministry. The professors give so much of their time and dedication to making sure you understand and feel equipped, and my advisors have helped me through the process. As Dr. Contreras said today in chapel, responding to your call is not the finish line but the start of your ministry. We shouldn't try to limit God by putting him in the box of our confinement."