Taking different perspectives and placing ourselves into another person’s shoes can help us understand different points of view. What are the encouragements and barriers to young people pursuing ministry and how can we overcome them?
Why do some young people pursue a calling to ordination and not others? Are there people who are aware of a calling but find it difficult to follow? Are there some who are called but never realise it?
There are many reasons why young people may not perceive or pursue a calling to ordained ministry. Some relate to their personal identity and circumstances, some to the structures and dynamics of the Church and some to wider society. Social differences such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and class can have an enormous impact on the ease with which young people discern a calling, and it’s important that church leaders bear these different perspectives in mind.
Here are some questions to help think through encouraging young people in their vocation.
- How do young people view themselves, and is that different from their perception of what an ordained minister looks like? Role models are crucial to inspiring vocation, and a lack of viable role models can inhibit vocation. For example, if the only church leaders they meet are old, White and male, then young people, Black people and women will be less likely to see themselves as potential candidates for ministry.
- Are young people getting opportunities to experience ministry? Vocation is often discerned through practical experience, whether leading, preaching, playing music, assisting with the Eucharist or any number of possible roles. The seeds of calling may be planted early in childhood, and involving children in ministry can be helpful for their own discipleship as well as for the church as a whole.
- Is vocation talked about at church? Every member of every congregation is called by God to something, so it can be helpful to develop a culture where people are encouraged to consider their own vocation, including the possibility of ordained ministry. It’s important to think about use of language, e.g. words like ‘vocation’ and ‘priest’ may have different associations for many young people, especially those not brought up in clergy households.
- Do young people have opportunities to explore vocations? Who do young people talk to about a developing sense of vocation? Are church leaders and mentors available and approachable? There is a range of resources available specifically designed to help young people work through their calling, including websites, books and social media, as well as national and local conferences and events (see the Call Waiting website).
- Are young people aware of different possibilities within ordained ministry? Not every person will see themselves in exactly the same role as their own parish priest, but they may not be aware that ministry can take different forms, e.g. sector ministry, different kinds of church or different roles within a parish. It is very common for young women (single and married) to dismiss the possibility of ordained ministry because, never having met any ordained mothers, they think it would be impossible to combine with having a family.
- What reactions might young people receive to voicing a sense of calling? Ordination may not be an attractive career option from the perspective of family and friends, and young people might need support in working through what their calling is, involving the people who know them best (particularly parents) as much as possible. For women, it can be unsettling to know that not everyone in the Church accepts the ordination of women. If they are unsure of a person’s views they may be anxious about broaching a sense of vocation with them, so it is helpful if church leaders are clear about their position.