Preparing the Next Generation for Life and Work

Vocational discipleship ministry helps young people understand the cost of discipleship and find God’s purpose. When they do, churches can transform their young adult ministry to a dynamic, relevant outreach program. | by Tami Peterson

When the Barna Group wanted to survey the next generation a few years ago, they wanted to gather information about young people’s attitudes toward church attendance. All the data coming out of the late twentieth century was that the next generation was leaving the institutional church in droves. Researchers created a few books around the data they collected, most of which had this negative tone and felt like a wake-up call.

But for one of their books, Faith for Exiles, David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock asked a different question: “What is keeping some next generation Christians faithful to their local church?” The answers might surprise you.

Good, biblically sound preaching? No.

Bible studies that were taught by brilliant teachers? Nope.

Cool coffee shops or hipster pastors? Of course not.

These might have been foundational for their faith, or fun to experience, but they weren’t mentioned high on the list. So, what were the top five? They were more complex than you might imagine and yet simple enough that you will see why once you read them. In fact, you will nod in agreement.

So, what are they? When questioned, next generation Christians agreed there were five general reasons they were still attending church. Their church experience included the following:

  1. Intimacy with Jesus
  2. Cultural discernment
  3. Intergenerational relationships
  4. Vocational discipleship
  5. Countercultural mission

Kinnaman and Matlock discovered next level reasons for connectedness. Not just “make a decision for Christ,” but intimacy. Not just worldview training, but discernment. Not just mentoring or coaching, but actual relationships with those not of their generation. Not just work hard, but actual discipleship around the ideas of identity, meaning, and purpose, and how work fits into vocation and occupation. Not just evangelism but understanding the countercultural nature of the life of an apprentice to Jesus.

I read this book when it first came out in 2019, and it resonated with what I was seeing in my coaching and consulting practice with the next generation. We heard the call and started developing resources for schools and churches to become involved in discipling the next generation vocationally. Little did we know that in a few short months we would be facing a pandemic and a crisis at work, called “The Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit.”

We now understand that “essential workers” are not willing to sacrifice their lives to bag our groceries. So, what can the church do to help the next generation understand the place of work in their lives? We recommend three things.

  1. Develop a theology of work.

What do you actually believe about work? If you are a pastor, you might think about your work as a calling, but are accountants called in the same way?

Create for young people a fundamental understanding that work itself is not a result of the fall, and something to be resisted.

Establish a mindset that while work is not always enjoyable, especially the essential kind, we can find a purpose in doing it. Guide the next generation of humans to understand that whatever occupies their time, talents, and attention matters, then infuse that message with the overarching call to steward God’s resources for his glory.

  1. Create ways to engage intergenerationally.

If you look at the five reasons the next generation chooses to stay connected to a church body, you can see the importance of true spiritual formation from which vocational discipleship emerges.

If a young person is intimate with Jesus, he or she has been asked to “come and see” an intimate relationship with Christ by someone farther down the devotional path than they are. When they look around at the world and see the brokenness of our cultural moment, they need someone to help them discern the truth about what they are experiencing.

Only a wise person who is engaged in the culture and prayerfully considering God’s purposes for engagement in it is ready to speak when cultural questions are asked.

  1. Intentionally go after vocational discipleship.

Create specific moments in the life of the church where young people engage in relationships where stories can be told about faithful stewardship of abilities, interests, and giftings by older believers in the workplace.

Then invest time and resources into helping young people understand who they are (identity), why they are here (purpose or meaning), and what they should do about it (action).

An Invitation to Embrace the Countercultural Life

When young people explore these three ideas, they begin to understand how truly countercultural the Christian life is.

As they grow in their understanding of how God has created them, they see the unique qualities they each bring to any workplace. This leads them to wondering how they can live into their calling to love God with all of their being.

They can also seek to grow the love of neighbor out of God’s love for them and not their own effort. Whatever they steward in God’s name, then, becomes an outworking of their vocation.

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