Lesson With Teens: What Does “Ministry” Mean?

Lesson With Teens: What Does “Ministry” Mean?


As teenagers graduate high school and go on to work, college, or both, we can prepare them in their journey of being Christ’s hands and feet in the world by helping them see that all that they do – not just at church or in youth group – is ministry.  The choices they make about the jobs they apply to, their major, social activities can all be made with the lens of faith and their baptismal promises.

Seeing all that we do as ministry means that we need to do some work to determine what is that ministry. This work can be framed by two questions:

1. What are my gifts for ministry?

2. What are God’s desires for the world?

These two questions are based on this insight by Frederick Buechner in the book Wishful Thinking.

“The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

So, between now and the end of the academic year, set aside time for your youth to gather and talk about ministry. The first half of the exercise is to determine one’s gifts.

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (12:4-10) assures us that there are a variety of gifts—wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. In his letter to the Romans (12:6-8) he lists these: ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, and cheerfulness.

So, which of these, or others, are my gifts? Below are three steps to begin that discernment. Begin by giving each youth a sheet of paper and pencil and asking them to divide the paper lengthwise. Title the first column “What I Do Now” and the second column “What I’d Like To Do.” In the first column:

  1. List all their the activities—courses, sports, acting, singing, working at a nursing home, waitering at a restaurant, and so on. In the second column, list activities that they dream of doing either in the next year or next five years.
  2. Checkmark the top 5 activities in each column—those that bring you deep and sustained happiness.
  3. Swap papers with another person. The second person adds attributes they see in their friend in the first column and pass the sheet back to its original owner These are possible gifts Take a look at the list. Do any surprise you?

The reason to have a second youth write the attributes is that we often overlook our own gifts. You might ask the youth to do one further task–look at just the list of attributes or talents and brainstorm all the possible courses, jobs, or activities that come to mind. There might be some activities in this list they’ve never even considered.

Throughout the Bible we learn about God’s dream for the world. Isaiah 65:19-25 in the Old Testament tells us about a heaven and a new earth. There shall be no weeping or cry of distress. People will live long lives. The people will live in houses they build and eat the fruit that they sow. People are treated fairly. Jesus, in the New Testament, calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, release the prisoner and provide housing to the homeless. This is God’s dream.

We often think of participating in God’s dream by volunteering at homeless shelters, stocking food pantries and donating money to agencies that help the poor. And these are important and necessary. Ministry does not stop there. Our very career choices are ministry too. Doctors heal the sick. Psychologists help people release themselves from barriers to psychological health. Construction workers build houses and bankers work to provide financing to businesses that contribute to society.  A politician contributes to social structures that govern communities.

Seeing these as ministry changes how we view them and informs the choices we make in our jobs.  A politician who is participating in God’s dreams works toward passing fair laws. A construction worker participates in building sound housing. God calls us to ground every choice in faith and the last three of our baptismal promises (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer) provide a roadmap to do so.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.

Return to the list you made in step one. How does that activity fulfill a baptismal promise? How can how you act in those activities fulfill them?

Each of us is called to partner with God to birth a new creation.

At the close of youth group, we read the Post Communion Prayer on page 365 of the Book of Common Prayer, a prayer we say every week after being fed with heavenly food. Ministry is largely outside the doors and walls of the church.


Jenifer Gamber has been involved in Christian formation since she began teaching Sunday school as a teenager.  The author of My Faith, My Life and Your Faith, Your Life for adults, she is a popular speaker on the topics of spirituality, prayer, and teen faith formation. Her website, offers a wealth of resources for adults who work with youth. Her most recent book is Call on Me: A Prayer Book for Young People.


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