Behind the Veil of Calling

Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, HikingArtist.com - via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m not a psychologist. Nor am I a sociologist. But I know my profession pretty well. And I know a ton of people in my profession.

Why do we do what we do?

It’s an important question. In many ways it is the only question that our students want to know the answer to.

My intuition tells me that most of us have been trained that the right answer is, “I’m called to this. I couldn’t do anything else because it is who I am more than what I do.

But behind that veil of the right answer– we find deeper, less correct, more driving motivations.

  • We want to see teenagers involved in the church.
  • We want them to steer clear of sex and drugs.
  • We want to help parents navigate the stormy waters of early & middle adolescence.
  • We want students to avoid the mess we got in; we want students to be the shining example we were in high school
  • We want to work at a church and this was the open door.
  • We want to be important in the lives of teenagers, we want to make a difference.
  • On and on…

Not all motivations are equal in nobility. While most motivations seem pure not all are with merit. And some might actually be contributing to a new problem more than solving the problem youth ministry was created to solve.

What are some examples of pure motivations which lead to ignoble motivations? If you work in a church or parachurch doing youth ministry– What are your points of contention with donors/supports/parrishners motivated to support your ministry with motivations that could be less than helpful?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

10 comments

  1. This post seems to presuppose that calling is not a likely motivation for most folks and I think that’s just wrong. Anyone who goes into youth ministry for any of the above motivations without also having an overwhelming sense of calling to that ministry is absolutely out of their mind.

    1. Agreed. That’s why I said, “I’m not a psychologist. Nor am I a sociologist. But I know my profession pretty well. And I know a ton of people in my profession.”

      I think right below the surface there are some false assumptions about what youth ministry is all about and can really do. Further, there is a ton of funding/support if you feed into those things.

      Such as… “Students in youth ministry will probably be so busy that they won’t be interested in sex or drugs or drinking.” Um, that’s a false assumption. But it is a false assumption that helps funding your position so you kind of placate it…

      See what I mean? Right behind the veil of “calling” there are some mixed motivations at play.

      1. I do understand that and, of course, I think anyone can fall prey to any of the aforementioned less noble motivations. Nevertheless, I don’t want to negate the idea that some people are genuinely called to ministry. Or perhaps, given the comment below from Tony, maybe a better way to put it is that out of their following Christ and clinging to the community of God, many people are genuinely convicted that they ought to be working to help youth become followers of Christ and, moreover, that they need help along the way.

        Then again, if you’ve spent any time among folks in the house church movement (Frank Viola comes to mind) then you’d know that the idea of “professional ministry” as many of us know it can be seen as the most ignoble of all “callings” because it is seen as a way of using our discipleship of others (something we ought to be doing anyway if we are following Christ) for financial gain (talk about mixed motivations).

  2. I’ll add one: we want the future church to not suck (like it does now), and if we can just get the young people to really follow Jesus, they’ll fix all the current problems.

    Not that I’ve ever had that motivation. Never. 😉

  3. I have one who thinks we a a church should make sure that teens don’t listen tot he wrong music.

    I think we are thinking about calling differently. I am called to follow Jesus. I am called to connect with the vine. I am called to remain connected to the vine.

    We are called to Christ. That is all we are called to. What flows out of that calling is ministry. But if we think we are called to ministry I think we are wrong. We are called to Christ.

    Jesus called His first disciples to follow him and then HE would make them fishers of men. He didn’t call them to be fishers of men. If we view our work as our calling then when work fails or teens stray our value and worth may seem to be diminished. But if our call is to Christ Himself then no matter what happens at my job be it youth pastor or trashman (sometimes they are the same) I am still secure in my calling.

    1. That’s such a good word! I think it’s true that we often confuse our calling to follow Christ with a calling to a particular profession. Nevertheless, what would you call it that compels a person to live out their faith by helping young people do the same? What would you call the process by which one is drawn to “vocational ministry”?

    2. Love the vine description, yes indeed.

      I just know that for a lot of folks, even in myself sometimes, my motivations aren’t just to connect myself to the vine. (To use your reference.) We think/want to do it ourselves because what the community is often asking for isn’t really a connection to Jesus, it’s a connection to some community rules. I’d much rather connect people to the true vine as opposed to a “fake vine” which is well funded.

      1. Oh I agree completely. It is easier to measure behavior than connectedness. (vine illustration.) and behavior is often what is rewarded. Either for the student with a great job kid or to the minister by being allowed to keep their job.

        But, the failure of youth ministry (to coin a phrase) is not youth ministry it’s the overall goal of behavior modification (almost christian) verses transformation by connectedness.

        I preached on John 15 a few years back and told people to stop acting like a bunch of fruit when in reality they were disconnected. They didn’t like that. We have created churches that value look and action, so when someone asks what about abiding, there is push back.

        The Dude Abides.

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