When I woke up that cold November morning in our sixth-floor apartment in Madrid, Spain, I felt different. I had always wanted to be a doctor. Whenever someone would ask, “What do you want to do with your life or what are you going to do when you grow up?” I would always reply: “A missionary doctor.” Now, overnight, at age 15, all the sudden, the vision for my life had changed. That morning during family worship I announced to my family that I, no longer would be a Missionary Doctor, I felt that God wanted me to be a pastor. My father, who is a pastor, was super excited to hear my announcement, and so was my mother. My brother, who had also grown up with the vision of becoming a medical doctor exclaimed, “I guess, only one person in this family will make lots of money.” He is a pediatrician today!
As I embraced the call to pastoral ministry from God, I started to pray more, read my Bible more, and listen to sermons of my favorite preachers on tapes. It was a few years ago before we had all the media options we have today. There was one preacher whom I admired, his office was in the World Headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Maryland. He was very well known, regarded by many as a great evangelist. One day, after our family transitioned from Spain to southern New Jersey, while I was in 11th grade, I came home and found a flyer with the photo of this great preacher, announcing that he would be leading a great evangelistic series in the city of Philadelphia. I was excited! This was the pastor whose articles I would read in the Adventist publications and whose sermons I would listen to the most, and now he would be preaching less than an hour away from our home. I had to go hear him, perhaps even shake his hand and have him pray for me. I was even more excited when my father said he would be working in that series as part of the evangelist’s team.
I asked my father to take me with him on opening night. I still remember…a packed auditorium, great and famous Adventist musicians. It was a wonderful atmosphere! The sermon was also great. Once the sermon was finished my father and I went backstage. I really wanted to meet the preacher, whose name I will keep to myself. There was a long line of people waiting to speak with him. He was praying with some, greeting others, and signing some of their Bibles. Finally, it was my turn. My father introduced me to the evangelist and told him “This is my son, Jose Cortes Jr., he wants to be a pastor.” I was excited, I did admire this preacher, his worldwide appeal as an evangelist impressed me. I shook his hand, and repeated, “Yes, I want to be a pastor.” He looked down at me with a serious face and said: “You are too short to be a pastor.” That was his reply. That was all he said. I thought to myself: “He is joking. There will be a punchline.” But there wasn’t one. That was all he said as he let go of our handshake and left the room.
I looked at my dad as if asking for an explanation of what had just happened. My dad shrugged his shoulders and simply said: “Don’t believe what he said…” And I didn’t. Although, I did not feel the affirmation from that man of God and felt that he had definitely not acknowledged God’s call to ministry in my life, I did not believe what he had said for a second.
More pastors needed in North America in the next 10 years
The North American Division is presently in a huge need to engage younger generations whom God is calling or will call to pastoral ministry. Our Ministerial team has been tracking our aging pastoral force in our Division for several years, and there is something that really concerns us. Presently, there are 750 pastors who are eligible for retirement. Our studies also indicate the possibilities that we may lose somewhere between 150-300 pastors per year for the next 10-13 years, due to advanced age and retirement. We have also noticed that the amount of theology graduates in our universities and North American based seminary graduates may not be enough as the wave of retirements begins to hit our churches. This is the reason why, we have worked together with a team of pastors, educators, and church leaders in the creation of NextGen Pastor initiative. The objectives of the NextGen Pastor initiative are:
• Pray for 2,500 children, youth, and young adults who will accept the call of God to Pastoral Ministry in the next 10 years.
• Identify children, youth, young adults who may have a special gift for pastoral ministry and encourage them to consider God’s call.
• Facilitate and follow-up the decisions of children, youth, young adults for Pastoral Ministry, when they come.
• Create a more positive atmosphere towards Pastoral Ministry across North America.
Change of attitude and vocabulary
If we are going to be successful in acknowledging and affirming God’s call to pastoral ministry on younger generations, the “you are too short”, “you are too young”, “you are not ready yet”, “women can’t be pastors”, and other similar discouraging expressions need to disappear from our vocabulary. Those attitudes and phrases need to be replaced by expressions like the following one, by John the Apostle:
“I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men (and women), because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” - 1 John 2:14
Years passed, I finished High School, finished College, and the Potomac Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church hired me as a Pastor. I was sent to the Adventist Theological Seminary to do a Master’s Degree. On my way back, after pastoring in several churches in the Washington/Maryland Metropolitan Area, I was asked to become the Pastor of the Silver Spring Spanish Adventist Church, right down the road from the World Headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Still remember that Sabbath, when at age 26, I was installed as the Pastor of the church in Silver Spring. As I stood up to preach, I looked to my left and guess who was sitting there? Yes, it was the very same famous evangelist that 10 years before had told me that I was too short to be a Pastor. God is too funny. When you have a vision and a purpose for your life, there will be obstacles, but there is the power of God.
After the sermon, I stood by the central door of the church to greet people as they exited. As the evangelist passed by, I realized that he was no longer that tall, he was a bit hunched over, I could tell age had taken its tow on him. He greeted me, “Pastor”, and it felt so good to have that very same man and church leader, who had once told me that I was too short to be a pastor, now calling me pastor. I treated him with love and he told me, “I am retiring soon, the brethren (referring to the leadership at the World Headquarters) are kind of hinting that it is time for me to go, I will soon have some time in my hands, so if you go out of town and need someone to preach for you, remember me, I am here for you.”
When a young woman or a young man approaches you and tells you “I want to be a pastor”, what will you say?
Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Director of the Ministerial Association, leads Evangelism, Church Planting, Adventist/Global Mission and chairs the NextGen Pastor initiative for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists