For years, I’ve watched and enjoyed The Biggest Loser. As a youth worker, I love and appreciate the stories of life change this show tells.
Naturally, this means that last night, I watched The Biggest Loser finale. At one point in the finale, the trainers interviewed people in the crowd who’d been on their own weight lost journeys; People who had lost significant amounts of weight without the help of the trainers.
What struck me most about this was one woman’s comment about how after losing 150 pounds, she became a certified personal trainer. As she said this, I thought about the scores of other people in the Biggest Loser family who have traveled a similar journey of weight loss followed by a new career as a personal trainer.
Yet, rather than celebrate this, I felt my body tense as I thought, “We’ve got a problem here.”
We’ve got a problem when a culture that has resulted in countless stories of life change also perpetuates the myth that to be successful, you’ve got to abandon your old life and begin a new career within the fitness world.
Unfortunately, our churches and in particular, our youth ministries, perpetuate the same myth.
Far too often (either intentionally or unintentionally), we communicate to youth that success in Christianity means using their gifts to serve and honor God within the church. It means shelving their real dreams in order to be in ministry – as worship leaders, youth pastors, and the like.
Of course, some teens may really be called into ministry. If that’s the case, encourage and challenge those teens. Give them the opportunity to shadow you and to learn what being in ministry actually entails. Pull back the curtain and let them see it’s not all fun and games. Talk openly about the low pay and the days you want to quit. Then if they still feel called to ministry, mentor them through that process.
But do the same for those teens who don’t feel called to ministry within the church. Walk with them through the discernment process, as they choose their careers. Paint a picture of vocation that is larger than the walls of your church; That allows a teen who dreams of being a teacher, doctor, graphic designer, or mechanic to understand that a career outside the church may in fact be God’s calling for them. Together in community, wrestle with what Frederick Buechner’s words mean for their lives, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
Within your churches, commission and pray publicly for people in a wide-variety of careers. This helps teens see that such people are kingdom workers who the world desperately needs and who our churches support and honor.
Finally, stop measuring your own self-worth according to how many of your teens become youth workers like you. Instead, applaud those teens who go out into the world and live like Jesus, in whatever job they hold.