Called or hired?

Recently, one of the big wigs in my denomination distinguished between “called” staff and “hired” staff. According to him, “called” staff are those who are ordained or rostered by our denomination. An entire congregation then calls them into ministry. In comparison, “hired” staff are those a church council (ie – board of elders) hires to do a specific job or task.

My mouth about hit the floor when I heard this distinction.

As a youth pastor, I'm not ordained. Despite the fact that I hold a master's degree in Youth Ministry Leadership, I'm also not rostered in my denomination. That means that by this big wig's definition, I am “hired” rather than “called” into ministry.

Here's my problem with this.

I am called into youth ministry.

Long before I believed I was called into youth ministry, a mentor suggested I might be. Through prayer, I then began to suspect that God was indeed calling me into ministry. A job offer from a church confirmed that.

That call didn't change... Even when everything that could possibly go wrong at that church went wrong. In the midst of that turmoil, I realized youth ministry uses all of my gifts. It's the thing God wired me to do.

So when that job ended, I looked for a new youth ministry gig. Before long, another church hired me – reaffirming my call to youth ministry and the local church. Lo and behold, when that job ended, my current church invited me to lead its youth ministry. 

The nine years since then haven't been easy. There have been lots of days when I've wanted to quit. And yet – God's call – a call which has regularly been affirmed by others, both inside and outside of my community – remains.

My call is actually what has enabled me to thrive in youth ministry over the long haul. If I was merely a hired hand, I'd have left my church long ago, at the first sign of trouble. I'd have abandoned youth ministry altogether after my first job went up in flames.

Maybe what's been true of me is also true of others. Maybe if our churches valued the directors of children's ministries, youth ministries, and music ministries in the same way they value pastors, longevity would be the norm rather than the exception in these roles. Maybe if our churches called youth workers in the same way that they call pastors – in a process involving the entire congregation – entire congregations would then be stakeholders in our youth ministries. Maybe then children and youth would know their value in our congregations and run towards rather than away from our ministries.

So, big wigs... Call me a hired hand if you want to but don't tell me I'm not called into this crazy, wonderful world of youth ministry.

For the good of the church, value me. 

Value those of us who call ministry our life's work, even if we're not ordained or rostered or somehow legitimized by the very people who employ us.

Value us because we are indeed called.

Our call matters to God.

It should matter to you as well.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

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