What do you want to be when you grow up?
As a kid, it seemed like someone was always asking me this question.
For a long time, my answer was teacher... Until it was architect and then later, writer.
Never once was it engineer, which is what my undergraduate degree was in.
Nor was my answer ever youth worker, which is the career I'm actually in.
After years of answering this question, now it seems I'm the one who's always asking it. Mostly, I ask high school juniors and seniors this question. When I do, I'm often struck by how riddled with anxiety students are when they answer (or attempt to answer) it. More often than not, high school juniors and seniors have no idea what they want to be when they grow up.
Oh sure. High school juniors and seniors know what they're supposed to be. They know what their parents and teachers think they should be.
But a lot of times, they also know the thing they're supposed to be isn't the thing they want to be. It's something that will ensure their future, quality of life, and reputation. But it's rarely something that excites or even interests them.
Maybe this is why year after year one of the things my students want to discuss is vocation. They want to wrestle with the question, What is God calling me to do? They want to know if God is calling them to one specific thing or if God's call might manifest itself in a variety of ways. They want to know how God's call intersects with their passions and gifts and whether or not they can reasonably expect to earn a living by following that call. They want to know if the only way for them to serve God is in the church.
In short, students want help sifting through the messages our culture (including that within our churches) gives them regarding vocation and careers.
To do this, as youth workers, we must engage students in frequent conversations about vocation and calling. We must do so not as another voice telling students what they should do. Nor should we do so in an effort to persuade students to enter church work or even in an effort to dissuade them from any other occupation. Instead, we must enter into these conversations as a form of discipleship designed to help students wrestle with the real life implications of their faith, which most certainly has something to say about vocation and career.
Regarding the specific vocation of women, Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood , suggests “Caring for the poor, resting on the Sabbath, showing hospitality and keeping the home – these are important things that can lead us to God but God is not contained in them.”
So it is with any career.
Serving the church is not in any way, shape, or form a higher calling than being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, musician, or plumber.
God is not contained in any one career though we may, in fact, encounter and serve God in any career. As Evans goes on to say, “If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms.”
God is God over all.
And as such, as a youth worker, rather than encourage students to be or do any one thing, I want to encourage them to do something that will allow them to utilize their gifts and talents. I want to encourage students to choose a career they are passionate about. I want to challenge students to pursue their dreams – even if their dreams won't ever translate into mansions. Perhaps most importantly, I want to help students wrestle with how they can use their chosen career – whatever it might be – to serve and honor God by walking humbly, doing justice, and bringing God's kingdom to earth.
In other words, I want to do for my students what I wish someone would have done for me as a 17-year-old senior: Walk with them through the difficult process of discernment, confidently reassuring them of God's love for them and of their ability to positively impact the world around them, whether that be as a teacher, architect, writer, engineer, or youth worker.