The missing piece of youth ministry: Why they need a theology of work

For Christians, whether 17 or 70 years old, the grand narrative of Scripture informs and shapes our lives, from our vocations to our rest to our commitments and dreams. A solid theology of work begins with Genesis, and we see the thread of God’s purpose for his creation throughout the pages of the Bible, each story reiterating his promise to redeem and restore the shalom and communion lost in Genesis 3. The four major sections of Scripture include creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, and each inform our understanding of work and rest.

Many parents and youth pastors often overlook teaching teenagers about a theology of work, calling, and how to live as faithful followers of Christ. Young Christians often spend time searching for God’s will, which can lead to anxiety and regret. At Made to Flourish, we hope to instill a robust understanding of how our faith, vocations, and callings intersect in everyday life, emphasizing a theology that does not divide sacred and secular vocations. Instead, we see all work as valuable and given by God to reflect his own workmanship in the world, including the noble calling of being a student.

As we train young people, we must do so with the grand narrative of Scripture in mind, reminding students that their primary calling as believers is to follow and abide in Christ, and all other callings remain secondary. Both primary and secondary callings are important to the flourishing of their own souls and others.

So when is an appropriate time to instill a biblical and healthy vision of work within our children? For youth pastors and parents, it starts now. One way youth ministers and parents can help their students and children value work is to encourage a love of learning at an early age. This is where a healthy vision and application of the integration of faith and work begins.

Why should parents and youth ministers start now while students are matriculating through high school? Here are two reasons to help us begin thinking about why intersecting faith and work is important for our youth.

First, many Christians, including high school students, have an impoverished view of vocation and work. We often see “legitimate work” as only compensated work.  And many see meaningful and sacred work (or God approved work) as what is done in the church or on the mission field. These understandings of work are biblically incorrect. All activity, paid or unpaid, apart from leisure or rest is meaningful and sacred work. There is no secular/spiritual dichotomy. Vocation is often misunderstood, too. Vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare, and means to call.  All Christians share a primary calling to Jesus Christ and to walk before him “worthy of the calling” (Eph 4:1). And all Christians also hold secondary callings, which includes being public citizens, one’s vocation, homemakers, and more. For our youth, their role as a learner and student is their secondary calling.

Second, too often high school students view education through a means to an end or utilitarian lens. Many students see education only for its utility and not for its inherent value. We desire for students to see education as a sacred activity, which will lead to a motivation to learn. Moreover, we hope that desire will lead to a deep love of learning that continues throughout each season of their lives, seeing that education, along with work, are inherently good as God designed.

Tom Nelson, president of Made to Flourish, often talks about the day he confessed to his congregation that he had committed pastoral malpractice. Nelson was quick to point out that this malpractice was not sexual immorality or financial impropriety. His malpractice? Nelson had committed the malpractice of perpetuating the majority-minority disparity. That is, he spent the minority of his time equipping his congregation for what they had been called by God to do the majority of their lives. God has called Christians to work — whether paid or unpaid — which consumes a majority of their lives. There is dignity in working with our heads, our hands, and our hearts. Similarly, youth pastors often spend the minority of their time equipping their youth for what they had been called by God to do the majority of their lives: the noble vocation of student.

Many youth pastors need to course-correct like Nelson did and spend a majority of their time equipping their youth for what they have been called by God to do in this season of their lives, “as unto the Lord” (Col 3:23-25). However, while students need to know this is their vocation now, they also need to know this is likely their calling for the next decade, whether in formal education or gaining valuable trade skills. Instilling this love of learning in them now is essential to their flourishing in all areas of life.

Topics: Calling and Career Choice, Education, Students

About the Author

Luke Bobo serves as director of strategic partnerships at Made to Flourish. He worked for 15 years in the marketplace as an engineer before earning his M.Div. and Ph.D., eventually serving as the executive director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary.