June 21, 2012 -- Just last month, Ezekiel Stoddard, 11, of Temple Hills, Md., was ordained as a minister in his family's independent Pentecostal church, where his parents are also pastors.
Stoddard said he was motivated to become a minister after God spoke to him in a dream and told him to read Psalm 23.
"God gave me that particular scripture because a lot of people, they try to draw you away from the lord, trying to get you on the wrong path," he said.
"People come to you, they ask you questions about why you should act like a child and not a minister," the young minister said. "I do things like a child, but still I am a minister. I am an evangelical."
Stoddard was ordained in a congregation-wide ceremony on May 6, with his parents leading the service.
His mother, Pastor Adrienne Smith, says her son preaches the 11 a.m. service with the other preachers at the Fullness of Time Church, a small but growing congregation in Capitol Heights, Md.
He has also preached at churches around the Maryland region.
"He can go to the bible and pull a text and prepare a sermon. That's in his heart," she says. "That's how he feels about the ministry, about Jesus, about the community."
Smith says she is confident in her son's abilities to lead a congregation, regardless of his age.
"He's had time to study, he knows a lot of scripture, he knows the 10 Commandments, the stories. He does childlike things, but when it comes to the word of God, he studies, he prepares."
Minister Ezekiel, nicknamed "Zeek" by his family, said that he doesn't feel like there should be an age limit to how old a minister needs to be before becoming ordained.
"A lot of people think of me being a kid, that my parents are forcing me to minister the gospel," he said. "But the first time I did a sermon, I was 7 or 8."
"There's a seriousness about Minister Ezekiel," his mother said. "He knows it's not about him. It's about ministry. Wherever he goes, they say, 'That's the little preacher there.'"
Stoddard is homeschooled by his mother, along with three other siblings. His mother says he spends at least three to four hours a day studying the Bible.
He names basketball, tennis, and going to the movies among his hobbies outside the church. He and his brother also have a landscaping business.
He said he plans on being a minister his entire life.
The cases of children becoming ordained as ministers is unusual, said Richard Balmer, professor of American religious history at Dartmouth college and an Episcopal priest.
"It's usually a novelty sort of thing," he said. "What happens in evangelical circles is that a congregation has the power to ordain anyone that it wants really. So if they take a liking to this guy and they think that he is talented and gifted and worthy, then that person can be ordained."
Balmer said the idea of ordaining a child is unusual because the ministry is viewed as a professional calling.
"Just as you don't have 11-year-old lawyers, or 11-year-old positions, there's a general sense that you need a certain maturity in order to function effectively in that role," he said.
"There have been child preachers through the decades, and more than one of them has grown up to be quite embittered by the experience and turned away from the faith," said Balmer. "I think that's a cautionary tale to anyone who wants to rush in and be ordained."