Many of the most significant leaders of recent times began their journey when they were young, or felt their calling to ministry as a child. How can you best help support young people in exploring their vocation?
God has always chosen, called and made very good use of younger people for his purposes. Scripture describes the stories of many such people, including Samuel, Timothy, David and Mary. There is no evidence to suggest that this is no longer true. In fact, many of the most significant leaders of recent times began their journey when they were young. We need a significant increase in numbers of young people being trained and released into leadership both in the church and the world.
However, there is often a disconnect between the aspirational examples from Scripture (what we believe about the role of young people in theory) and our reality and practice. How can we begin to redress the balance between the two?
Believe that God has a vocation for young people (and children) and proactively look for and encourage it. It’s often the case that the first sense of calling to ordained ministry occurred during teenage (or earlier years). Significant community leaders (clergy, youth workers) have an important role to play in identifying and nurturing that call. Don’t wait for them to speak to you about it, you can start the conversation. And if they do talk to you about their calling, take them seriously, dare to believe God could be speaking to them.
Be particularly aware of the ‘unlikely ones’, probably those different from you in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background. God calls all kinds of people; we need to build bridges to enable them to hear his voice, rather than unconscious walls which can block it.
Give young people the opportunity to have a go at ministry and exercise their gifts (preaching, leading services, administering communion, mission projects, prison visiting etc.) Facilitate work experience where they can shadow you for a week or so, seeing the day to day work of parish life. Allow yourself to allow them to take risks, knowing they will make mistakes occasionally (think of Peter getting it wrong numerous times before becoming the rock upon which Christ built his church).
Don’t believe the myth that young people need ‘experience of life’ before going into ministry. The church, in all its complexity and diversity, can provide more than enough life experience for even those who think they have plenty of it already!
Research has shown that young people need: a role model, a mentor, a peer group, some training and some experience in order to develop their call. How can you ensure that you and your church or local community provide these elements?
Increasing numbers of dioceses have Young Vocations Champions in place, to offer further advice on how to nurture vocations in younger people, including Gap Year Residential schemes offering a prolonged taste of work experience. You can find a list of them on the Call Waiting website alongside other resources.
Finally, don’t try and ‘be a young person’ but rather ask for their advice and thoughts on the church and ministry, most are more than happy to share! And employ their expertise, especially in the use of social media to get the message out there.