From the time I was young, I was a bit of a planner. Most things in my life were carefully considered—and my professional path was no different. I knew what I would study after high school. I had already decided what university I would attend. I had already identified the job I wanted after graduation. And, if I am completely truthful, none of these things dealt with the Concordia University System, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, or the church at all. So . . . what happened?
My pastor asked me to explore becoming a Director of Christian Education.
We are in need of new workers in the church. Where will we find these servants? How will we identify them? Many will come from within our congregation’s membership, but how will we help them recognize that church work is an option for them?
You—yes, YOU—can make a difference!
Whether or not we like to say it “out loud”, pastors, commissioned ministers, and lay leaders play a vital part in raising up workers in the church. For most young people, you are the “face” of service. You represent what it looks like to work in a congregational setting. Through you, young people learn what it looks like to serve in the church. And because of this, often times, the connections you make with young people become the primary influences that help them consider a church work career.
I am currently blessed to serve as the D.C.E. program director at Concordia University, St. Paul. One of my favorite parts of this job is sitting with students and listening to their stories. I love hearing how God has been, and continues to be, at work in their lives as He continually prepares them for service in the Kingdom. Virtually every one of the students enrolled in a church work program here at CSP has a story of someone who cared enough to invest in them, encouraging them to consider entering into an ordained or commissioned ministry position.
It is easy to underestimate the role you play in the lives of your congregation’s students. But our universities and seminaries are full of stories, just like the ones here at CSP, of students whose lives were influenced by the church workers and volunteer leaders in their local congregations. We can (and should!) encourage students as they make decisions that will shape the rest of their lives—including discerning their career path.
Gifts Abound in God’s People
God has always used humans in His work here on earth. From commanding Adam and Eve to care for the Garden of Eden, or Paul’s transformation and subsequent mission and ministry, or any of the countless other men and women we meet in the history of Scripture, God has continued to use his people through all generations. This remains true today.
God gives gifts to his children with the intent that those gifts will be used in service in his Kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Look around and see the gifts and abilities of your students. You will likely see young men and women whose gifts would fit well in full-time service in the Kingdom. In addition to a student’s spiritual gifts, consider his or her character. Commitment to Word and Sacrament, honesty, integrity, leadership, and listening skills are foundational in the life of a church worker. In many cases, finding students who possess these attributes will point the way to a candidate for a church work career.
As you identify students you believe would be good church worker candidates, how do you encourage them in this part of their journey? How can you help them see that church work might be “for them”?
Ideas for Encouraging Young People
It can be intimidating to discuss with students issues like these—issues that will shape the rest of their lives. How will they respond? To aid your discussion, here are some tips from students who are currently studying for a career in church work, or who are considering it.
When you are preparing for and entering a conversation with a student, do so prayerfully. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:37-38: “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Continue praying for God to raise up new workers to serve in this generation.
Help Students Understand and Use Their Gifts
Encourage students to explore how they have been gifted by God, then help them identify areas where they can use their gifts in your congregation now. If students are musical, connect them with your music programs. If students are handy, get them involved with your property and maintenance group. Linking your students’ gifts with tangible ways they can serve today will give them ownership in your congregation as a whole, which can lead to a deeper connection to the broader church.
As mentioned above, place students into leadership roles in your congregation. Do this safely, however. For example, don’t ask a high school student to be your VBS director next summer as his or her first act of leadership. Start small, and grow the level of responsibility as the students grow.
It is easy to get energized when a student tells you he or she is considering a career in church work—so excited that you may go “full speed ahead”. But a word of caution from students who have been there: "Don’t push too hard; you might just push us away from it!" It is one thing to encourage and a different thing to push. Learn to carefully navigate that balance and respect the boundaries of your students as they make these choices.
My life was influenced by a pastor who cared about me and took the time to ask me about a different path for my life. Many of us who work in the church have similar stories. Church workers can, and do, influence students in many ways. The relationships you build with young people today will have a real impact on how they view the church and their role in it. Seek out students who could influence the next generation as those who came before influenced us. Encourage them. Pray for them. Watch as God continues to work through His people.