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From I want to I should

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question is posed to almost every boy and girl from the time they can speak to the time they graduate from high school or college. Until we select an occupation and enter the workforce, that question will continually be asked of us. The question is daunting, in part, because the world is an open place of opportunity in a way that it has not always been. There are so many careers to choose from. Gone is the age of children following in their parents’ career footsteps. Just take a look at Seminary enrollment. It cannot be assumed that most of the men studying to become pastors are themselves pastors’ sons. Most will be first generation pastors. This is not a bad thing. We praise the Lord for every pastor He sends into His harvest field. It just means that, with a little hard work and a bit realism, you can pretty much be whatever you want to be when you grow up. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Christian youth and young adults, in particular, may find this question daunting because there are conflicting messages coming from the world and from the church about how we decide what profession to pursue. In an individualistic society focused on self-expression and gratifying every desire, choosing an occupation primarily comes down to passions and money. The motivation for the decision is wrapped up in the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is an inherently inward focused question that can only be unlocked with some directed soul-searching. The guidance counselor in high school or college can administer a test that will quantify a student’s passions and abilities and spit out compatible job opportunities along with the expected pay in each of those fields. Students are then left to pick the job that matches what they enjoy, what they are good at and what will make them the most money. These are what the world — broader American culture — prioritizes in picking an occupation. In other words, young people are encouraged to do whatever they want.

While those outside the church may buy into this way of thinking, Christian youth may notice a dissonance between these priorities and the priorities of the Christian’s life. After all, something about the above method of selecting an occupation seems antithetical to Christianity. Christ says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11 ESV). Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10 ESV). Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13 ESV). From these, and many more passages, we see that the life of a Christian is others-focused, not self-focused. If that applies to the way we choose our occupations (and it does), then we Christians will have a much different way of going about the occupational discernment process.

Suddenly, personal passions and large paychecks will take a back seat to the needs of the neighbor and the individual’s ability to fulfill them. The question moves from “what do I want to be” to “what should I be”? This is a question that takes little soul searching but a lot of putting the sinful flesh to death. For it is no little death to self to say no to the possibility of prestige, power, fame, pleasure or wealth. And yet, it was all of these that Christ forsook in His ministry. Having given His life as a ransom for many, He is now enthroned in glory. Where He has gone, we will go, but the way to glory passes through death first. It will not be pleasant, but doesn’t the hope that we have anticipate something greater than this present fragile life? If this is so and you have not yet taken on an occupation, please consider the needs of your neighbors. Please consider the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ who need a pastor.

While there are certainly many good, God-pleasing occupations outside the church in which the neighbor may be served sacrificially, this is what I know. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a shortage of pastors, and that shortage is getting worse by the year. And yet, we do not have a shortage of men who would be capable of being pastors. The problem is that we have been tricked into living as if money and following our passions and personal happiness is all that is worth pursuing. If you are considering or on the fence about pursuing the Office of the Holy Ministry, I pray that you would see that the riches and pleasures of this world are fleeting. You have a neighbor, many neighbors, who needs your service in the care of their souls. Let it not be the deceitfulness of riches and pleasure that prevents you from serving your neighbor in this noble task.

Rev. Benjamin Hayter is a 2021 graduate of Concordia Seminary who has been called to serve Zion Lutheran Church in Chebanse, Ill.