Embracing Sonship: On Being Young in Ministry

Last month, I spent a week in Chicago with my fellow InterVarsity Grad and Faculty Ministry staff for our national conference. The theme was ministering across generations, and some of the conversations from that week still have me thinking.

I was particularly struck by the insight of one of my more experienced colleagues, who said that his ministry with students has evolved over time from ministry as an “older brother,” to ministry as “the young uncle” to ministry as a “father.” In other words, as he’s gotten older, the way in which he’s related to those around him  has changed.

This has left me thinking for some time now about my own stage of life as a young, single, minister. In fact, I learned at this conference that I’m currently the youngest grad and faculty ministry staff worker in all of InterVarsity. Being young in ministry is difficult in any context. I’ve found it particularly difficult in doing ministry with faculty who are much older than me. My colleague’s reflections now have me asking: What does it mean to do ministry as a “son”? What is an appropriate way to do ministry with people older than I am?

The first thing that came to mind in response to this question is the commandment: “Honor your father and mother…” Honor can be a form of ministry.

Realizing this has revealed to me some of my own baggage that keeps me from doing ministry well with faculty, or anyone older than I am. My preference is to do ministry with people who are sociologically lower than I am. Most often, this has meant working with people younger than me. When I was in college, I led a middle and high schooler youth group. When I moved onto seminary, I began ministering to college students. Now that I”m out of seminary and am a working professional, I do ministry with grad students. In the times when I’ve been ministering to/with people older than me, I find another way to see them as lower than me – as less well off financially, less educated, less spiritual. In the occasions when I can’t find anything like this, as is often the case with older, well off, well educated and deeply spiritual Christian faculty, I immediately assume that I have nothing to offer in ministry.

But I do have something to offer. If nothing else, I can honor them. I can admire their work and insights. I can come to them for counsel and advice, and even submit to them as Jesus submitted to his parents.

I think there’s still more to learn from what the Bible teaches about sonship to inform how ministry can be done as young people. So, I’ve recently begun a journey through the Bible, looking at all of the places where the word “son” appears (it’s going to take a while!). I’ll (hopefully) continue to post thoughts that I think are significant or helpful for me as they come up.


3 thoughts on “Embracing Sonship: On Being Young in Ministry

  1. Perhaps a good place to start would be eliminating the concept of someone being “lower” than you.

    Years ago, we as a family befriended a young single man who was struggling through a dead end job. Initially, the people around us, and we ourselves, thought of how wonderful it was that we were “reaching out” to this needy person.

    As our relationship grew and strengthened, however, we realized that friendships are a two-way street, and while we were able to offer a good meal and a noisy table, our friend offered funny stories, a new perspective, a listening ear to our kids. He was not “lower” than we were by virtue of his younger age, lesser job position, and lack of nuclear family — we were equals, each with something to share. When we reached this point of understanding, our mutual relationship grew deeper and sweeter.

    When church people would comment, “It’s so nice of you to take Mr. Single under your wing,” we responded, “Mr. Single is our friend. We enjoy one another.”

    Western Christians worry too much about “ministering” and not enough about listening, loving, meeting others’ needs and allowing others to meet ours. Jesus Himself interacted with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus as a friend — yes, He was always the God of the Universe, but while he was in this trio’s household, I believe he was able to sit at the table, relax, share jokes, and be loved as well as loved.

  2. I realise I am reading this a number of years on from it’s writing. But it is interesting to read as I was ordained at 25 nearly 15 years ago and found it hardest relating and ministering to my nearest peers. Instead the opposing ends of the spectrum felt like home; the much older and the much younger. I now find I feel more I’m on more of a level with my church members who are predominantly older but within the community I feel I am finally ministering to my peers whether it be through the trauma of burying a child or the listening ear to angst over teenage children or simply trying to make sense of relationships. I wonder though if I wasn’t in the ministry what I would want of a minister if I were a professional woman with a busy family life and time consuming hobbies…..????? Carole- uk

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