I had my life planned out from an early age.
I knew what I wanted to study in college. I knew what school I was going to study at. I knew where I wanted to work after graduation. And, let’s be honest – none of it had to do with working in a church. So what happened?
My pastor asked me to consider becoming a Director of Christian Education.
It is no secret that we are in need of a new generation of church workers, but where are these leaders going to come from? How do we identify who they are? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we help them consider that church-work is a viable option for students after college?
Can we Really Make a Difference?
Whether we admit it or not, pastors and youth leaders play a very integral role in raising up a new generation of leaders in the church – both professional and lay leaders. When our students walk through the doors of our church buildings, we become the “face” of ministry for these young people – they see what ministry is through what they see of us. Sometimes, the connections we are able to foster with students are some of the strongest influencers to helping students consider careers in the church.
Just the other day, I had a student tell me they were considering church-work following college due to the relationships they had with myself and one of our past Vicars. One of our Seminary students is there because of the influence of our Senior Pastor. And another high school student is considering church-work due to the love and encouragement she received from a couple of lay volunteers in our congregation. And these are just a few examples.
Sometimes we underestimate the role we play in the lives of our church’s young people. But our universities and seminaries are full of stories just like these three – students whose lives were changed by the encouragement of the church-workers and volunteer leaders in their congregations. We can (and should) encourage students as they walk through the choices that will shape the rest of their lives, and this includes helping as they discover their career path.
The Right Gifts for the Right Roles
God has always used people to do His work here on earth. Be it Adam and Eve tending to the Garden of Eden, or Paul being transformed into God’s “chosen instrument” to spread the Gospel message among the Gentiles, or any of the countless, unlikely people we find throughout Scripture, we see that God has used His people through all generations. In fact, in Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT), Paul writes: “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip Gods people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” The church today is no different than the early Church was; God still uses ordinary men and women to accomplish His purposes in this life.
And, God doesn’t just ask us to serve Him without help ‘ He has equipped us for various avenues of service in His Kingdom through the gifts that He has given us. We read in Romans 12:6-8 (NLT) that “In His Grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” It is important to remember that God gives His people gifts as He sees fit, and the expectation is that we will use these gifts and talents to serve Him in His Church.
If we take a serious look around at the gifts and abilities of our students, we will begin to see those who have the foundations of a solid church-worker. Honesty, integrity, leadership, and listening skills, and a commitment to a deepening relationship with Christ, are all foundational pieces to the life of a church-worker. In many cases, these will help point you in the right direction when seeking out students to encourage towards professional church-work.
But there is more to the puzzle than just recognizing that our students are gifted. Once we identify students we think would make solid church-workers, how do we go about encouraging them in their decision making processes? How can we help them see that a career in church-work is a practical option?
Practical Pointers for Encouraging Students
It can seem a daunting task to discuss matters like this – to talk with students about decisions that will shape the rest of their lives. How will they react? To help guide our discussions, I spoke with a few students who are currently considering church-work careers, and here are some tips that they gave:
Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More: When we enter into this discussion, we have to realize that everything should be covered in prayer. We recall the words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38, where He said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (NLT). Continue to pray that God will raise up workers to lead a new generation of worshippers in their lives of faith.
Help students understand their gifts – and use them: Encourage students to explore how God has gifted them, and then help them identify areas in your congregation where their gifts can be useful. If they are musical, connect them with the music department at your church. If they like to fix things, put them in touch with someone from your property and maintenance committee. Connecting a student’s gifts with your congregation’s ministries will help them feel more at home in the church and take ownership in the church as a whole – not just in the youth ministries – which can lead to a deeper connection with the Church.
Give students responsibility – safely: One of the biggest ways to encourage a student to consider church-work as an option is to put them in positions of leadership and responsibility in your own group. But do this safely – dont ask them to plan your whole fall retreat as their first act of leadership. Start slowly – publicizing an event at your midweek program, organizing snacks for Sunday night’s small group, or helping plan the games for a retreat are examples of ways that students can take on responsibility for the programs without the whole program collapsing – and taking you, and the student, down with it.
Take students on a college visit: If you have students who are interested in a church-work career, organize a trip to one of the schools where they would likely attend. Giving them a chance to meet the professors and check out the classes can help ease their apprehension about church-work. If this is not possible for your ministry, help parents connect with the right people at the colleges and universities so they can organize a visit with their children.
Help students understand what you do: Have you heard the old joke that “Pastors just work one day a week?” To those of us in church-work, that seems downright absurd. But many of your students probably have no idea what a full-time church-worker does when there are no students around. Help them understand what it is that you do when you are not leading their programs. Let them follow you around the office for a day. Holistic pictures of what ministry is like will help students better understand if church-work is right for them.
Don’t push too hard: We get pretty excited sometimes when a student begins to consider church-work as a viable career option. But one of the students I spoke with told me, “Don’t push too hard – you might just push us away from it.” There is a fine line between encouraging students to consider church-work as an option and trying to push them into it. Learn how to walk that line carefully to respect the student’s boundaries as they make this choice.
My life was influenced by a pastor who took the time to care about me and ask me to consider another path. And, I’m sure many of you have a very similar story. We can play a great role in influencing a new generation of leaders in Christ’s Church. The relationships we have with the students in our lives can have a big impact on how they view the future of the Church and what their role is within it. Take time to seek out individuals who could have the same impact on lives that our predecessors had on us. Encourage them, pray for them, and see how God works through His people as we encourage our students.