Two stories of two lives in the last few days drew me to think of two voices in our search for our vocation. They reminded me of the importance of knowing and following our true calling. One was of a young person who trained for a profession and then realised she had followed that path to meet the expectations of her parents and woke up to the fact that it wasn’t right for her. She was able to leave and start a new career that better suited the gifts she had. The second, of a respected colleague who spoke of being strongly encouraged to consider ordination instead of her current role in youth ministry. After much discussion and heart-searching she was no further forward. and then she had an unexpected encounter with God whilst sitting at her desk at work. She felt God clearly affirming her vocation to youth ministry.
Two stories and two voices that influence our choices. The voice of others can be strong and compelling, always worth listening to but never as reliable as the voice of God, sometimes heard through others of course but also as we recognise our passions, gifts and identity and sometimes when we just know that God has spoken.
The second story resonated with me as I too had been on a similar journey, exploring ordination after resisting it for many years, partly in response to the encouragement of others. But then coming to an even stronger recognition that God has called, and is still calling, me to ministry with and for young people.
It also made me think of two other voices – one calling us to ordination and one to youth ministry. The voice calling us to ordination is a powerful one in the Church of England right now. As the church needs more clergy and especially younger clergy, there are several high profile programmes supporting ‘young vocations’. I am pleased to be involved in this and helping young people to discover their calling, which may include the priesthood. Yet it often feels as though this is the ‘higher calling’ and even the only one for some people. Thankfully we are recognising the importance of understanding vocation in its wider sense and the power of people following their calling in all walks of life as highlighted by the recent report and Synod debate ‘Setting God’s People Free’.
However the unintended consequence of the current emphasis on ordination is the quietening of the voice calling people to youth ministry. Not only are many youth workers leaving this ministry to train for the priesthood but there are fewer people training for youth ministry in the first place. This may be symptomatic of a church that has a clear and well-funded structure for training and deploying clergy but has no such structure for youth ministry.
At an individual level, it’s hard to argue against the voice of God’s calling to ordination!(and my hope and prayer is that if we end up with more priests with a heart and skills to work with young people, we may see more churches prioritising this vital ministry). But if there was an open door to youth ministry training and funded employment opportunities, would the calling to this specialist ministry be heard louder? If the way wasn’t so closed off or so hard to follow, would youth ministry become a real option?
As you might guess, I believe it would! The result will be that we’d have many more high quality youth ministries and growing churches. We’d have many more young people in our church communities and more young people receiving the help that youth work offers both outwith and within the church. Out of this larger population of young people who will also know what it is to be disciples of Christ, we will start to see more knowing their true vocation in whatever area of work God calls them to. And of course this will also mean more being called to ordination.
Can you hear two voices? – shouting Win! Win!