The art of shoulder tapping

Mission & Ministry: Don’t underestimate the value of encouraging young people

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As we in the USMB family find ourselves in need of more vocational ministry leaders, including pastors, worship leaders, missionaries, teachers and youth leaders, it’s important to remember the “art” of shoulder-tapping.

Shoulder-tapping is simply going directly to a person and encouraging them about their ministry giftedness. It could be to encourage them to participate along with you in a particular ministry in the church or it could be affirming them about vocational ministry.

A large percent of those currently involved in full-time ministry point back to a moment when someone affirmed them, encouraging them to think about using their God-given gifts for Kingdom work.

“When I was in my late twenties, I was given an opportunity to preach during an evening worship service at the MB church in Ulysses, Kan., where we attended,” says Don Morris, USMB national director. “After I preached, one of the elders said from the stage, ‘Don, you should go preach!’ I remember feeling something deep inside when he said that as I had never considered leaving our family farm. That moment began a four-year season of wrestling with God, feeling the call to ministry and ultimately leaving, along with my wife and three children, for pastoral training in Fresno. That ‘shoulder-tapping’ had an enormous effect on my life.”

Have we lost the art of shoulder-tapping? Do we encourage young leaders to pursue ministry? Do we affirm gifts as they become evident in a person’s life—perhaps long before those gifts are nurtured, seasoned and ready for the rigors of pastoring or missionary work? Are we willing to pull a young man or woman aside and say, “I see something in you. Have you ever considered…?”

Maybe it begins with asking someone about a role in the local church. If we depend on announcements from the stage or bulletin to fill positions in the church, we’ll likely struggle to find enough people. People don’t want to be recruited, and very few people will respond to that kind of appeal.

Vanderbloemen, a Christian leadership organization, writes in a recent article, “Most (people) jump in and help because they want to make a difference with their lives or because they want to meet some people and crave community. That’s why you must talk about shoulder-tapping. ‘Join me.’ This tells me that someone wants to be with me, that I have worth, and that I can make a difference.”

It’s widely known in church circles these days that almost all denominations are grappling with the problem of not having enough vocational ministry leaders. The average age of pastors is rising every year, indicating that young pastors are not emerging at the level needed to replace those who are retiring. Although there are many things that should be done to help alleviate this deficit, shoulder-tapping must be part of the solution.

In this day and age, most potential full-time ministry leaders will not leave their current locations to “go to” seminary or Bible college. Much training is done online. We need more such offerings and to make them known to our churches so that those who are shoulder-tapping can direct a potential leader to these resources. Taking just one class online can whet the appetite so to speak.


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