The call to the ministry came at an early age for Derrick Shavers.

“My preaching call was really in my mother’s womb,” said the dynamic young pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. “Kind of like Jeremiah (the Old Testament prophet), the Lord had already anointed me and ordained me to be a preacher, and that’s what I did.”

It just took a few years for the call to manifest.

“I didn’t accept my call until later on, but it was already there,” said Shavers, 35. “It was implanted in me. I knew when I was growing up that there was something in me that was different from the other kids. The only thing I wanted to do was go to church and sing.”

He started singing at about the age of 3 in the church and moved his way up to choir director at 12. He became one of the directors of the 400-member Louisiana Interdenominational Mass Choir as a teen.

Shavers, a native of Baton Rouge and a resident of Denham Springs, said he loved the music ministry. But he couldn’t deny his call to the preaching ministry.

Even though he had come from a “slew of preachers” — his father, grandfather and an uncle were ministers — Shavers said he felt he was called, not pressured, to follow suit.

He recalled a personal encounter in 1998 at home where the hand of God provided the impetus for answering his call.

“I was in a room by myself and I was praying to God, and I said, ‘God, I want you to show me yourself. I really want to feel your presence. I’ve been going to church, but I really want to experience you for myself.’ ”

Shavers said he lifted his hands toward heaven.

“I felt the presence of a hand on top of my head,” he continued. “I feel chills because every time I think about it, I start to get excited. … I said, ‘Lord, I feel your presence,’ and all of a sudden, I wasn’t in control of my body.”

After falling to the floor, unable to move, Shavers said he tearfully declared his love to God.

“‘When God finished dealing with me, it felt like a release over me. … From that point on, I really was in tune with God and was able to understand when he’s speaking and talking and what he’s doing,” Shavers said.

He joined the ministry and preached his first sermon in August 1999.

“This is what I’m going to be doing until the Lord calls me home,” he said.

Shavers was the music minister at St. Paul for four years before moving over to the pastor’s chair 3½ years ago.

“It’s my first church, and it’s going to be my only church,” he said.

Being a pastor has been a satisfying transition, Shavers said. The church was down to a faithful few when Shavers took over, and it now has 450 on the church roll, with a growing youth ministry.

Part of Shavers’ appeal is powerful preaching and teaching; a language young and old can appreciate; and his singing.

“Really no major issues at all. I told them from the get-go that I’m a servant,” Shavers said.

Shavers has demonstrated that servant’s heart inside and outside the walls of the church, where he tries to keep it real as he shares the love of Jesus.

“You got to give people the realness of Christ,” he said. “You got to give genuine love … and know that can depend on their pastor to be there for them … to love on people, to show people that God cares. That’s where growth comes from.”

The church has grown through the Gospel that helps people change, said Shavers, a credit union branch manager who attended Baton Rouge Community College and Southern University and who is a graduate of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

“I’m talking about young men who came to church with gold in their mouths, selling drugs on the streets, now they’re living for God. You can actually see the change,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to come to church every Sunday, if there’s no change taking place. We want to see God actually moving in your life.

10,000 reasons

The Rev. Jonathan Stockstill and the Bethany Church had more than 10,000 reasons to celebrate the new year.

The church set a goal to reach 8,000 salvations in 2015. It reached that goal and more, with about 10,300 salvations.

“One of our greatest joys as a ministry is seeing people put their faith in Jesus Christ,” Stockstill said. “(Last) year, through outreaches, services and group meetings throughout the city, we had the wonderful privilege of seeing over 10,000 people decision for Christ.”

In 2015, the nondenominational church launched its fifth campus at Baton Rouge Community College, joining Bethany’s South campus in Baton Rouge, the North campus in Baker, the Livingston campus in Walker and a Hispanic campus in Baton Rouge.

Mark of the beast

God is warning believers today about the mark of the beast as just the early church was warned, author Ezra Celestin says in his new book “The Mark of the Beast Revelation 13: Identifying the Beast with the Number and the Mark” (AuthorHouse).

Celestin explores what he calls biblical truth regarding the mark of the beast, and identifies the beast, his mark and number in the intriguing but intensive 152-page book.

“Many Christians believe the image of the beast is not yet formed and therefore the mark of the beast is not yet an issue,” Celestin writes. “This is because they are looking for the mark in all the wrong directions. They are ascribing the mark to the wrong entity, and since they believe what they are looking for has not taken place, they live in expectation of future events. This future has caused many Christians to relax and let their guard down, hoping they will fortify themselves and will be able to stand when they are looking for will be enforced.”

Celestin writes about seven warnings of the apostasy given to the early church through the apostles.

“The very first thing they told the church is: do not allow any man to deceive you by an means. By this warning the child of God must understand that deception will be practiced within the church. Therefore the child of God must know the truth in the Word of God to be able to guard against this widespread deception that will be practiced from the leadership of the church on down.”

A third-generation Seventh-day Adventist and resident of the Virgin Islands, Celestin said he started researching truths behind the mark of the beast after learning that every denomination has its own interpretation on the subject.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com