by Brian Dembowczyk
When I turned 16, my father told me I needed to get a job. If I wanted spending money, I would have to earn it from that day forward. I had taken woodshop in school so I found a good fit working at a hardware store, a job I held throughout high school and most of college. I loved that job. Sure it provided me with spending money, but it was worth far more than that—it helped forge within me a work ethic that continues to this day.
I don’t know if my father had anything more in mind than not wanting me to bleed him out financially the day he told me to get a job. As a father of three, I can appreciate that if it were all he was thinking about, and I plan on following suit in two years when my oldest turns 16. But whether he intended it or not, my father discipled me in that moment too.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it.” Start a kid right, or as some other versions translate it, “train up a child,” and you will place him on the right path for the rest of his life. While the crux of this proverb concerns teaching kids the ways of God, the gospel, its application is not limited to that. As parents, we are to train up our kids in other ways too, such as practical living and even a future career. Yes, the gospel matters most, but these other areas are not unimportant.
We have to be careful to avoid holding a false dichotomy between what is “secular” and what is “sacred.” While holy and unholy living is certainly distinct, when the gospel is rightly understood as impacting every area of life, everything, apart from sin, can and should be “spiritual.” This means that a career is not “secular.” It’s not just a crude way to earn money, something God takes little to no interest in. Rather, a career is a calling by God, the way He provides physical needs and one of the greatest mission fields He gives us. Preparing our kids for a career, then, is not secular work, but rather sacred work—it’s part of discipleship. Besides, 1 Timothy 5:8 makes providing for a family a spiritual issue, rendering any such distinction irrelevant.
Here are three ways, then, that we can disciple our kids for a future career:
- Teach Life Skills and Character. Think about the practical life skills and character attributes that often can make or break a career, such as time management, discipline, relational skills, and integrity. You could be the best in the world at what you do, but if you are always late, undisciplined in your work, can’t get along with coworkers, and lack integrity, you probably won’t last long at your job. Make a list of these skills and character marks and plan how to teach them to your kids, capitalizing on their present life context. For example, balancing school work, sports, church, and family is a great laboratory for learning time management and siblings help teach relational skills—especially how to treat people when you are frustrated with them.
- Work on Projects Together. If you’re like me, you probably have overdue household projects piling up. Inviting our kids to help us knock these projects off our lists is a great way to help prepare them for a future career. Sure it’s easier and quicker to do most of these projects by ourselves, but life—and parenting more precisely—is not about easy and quick. It’s about what is meaningful and lasting. Repairing fence pickets quickly pales in comparison to training a kid how to use a hammer, measure, cut lumber, and develop a strong work ethic. Plus, in a time-starved, electronics-saturated world, what can compare to spending a few hours with your kid one-on-one with no distractions?
- Pass along Work Skills. Think practically about the skills necessary for work in general and the skills you possess for your job. Then think of intentional ways you can pass those skills down to your kids. For example, I might be biased (OK, so I am), but I believe that the ability to write well is critical no matter what a person does. As a writer and an editor, then, I have the opportunity to steward what I have learned about writing and train my kids in a meaningful way and help prepare them for a future career, whatever it might be. That’s why, much to his chagrin, my oldest son and I are reading through a book on writing this summer before he begins high school this fall. His younger sister and brother will do the same one day. My hope is that this helps them as writers in high school and beyond.
Brian Dembowczyk is the Managing Editor and Kids Team Leader of The Gospel Project and author of “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry” and “Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Learn Truth.” Before coming to LifeWay, Brian served in local church ministry for seventeen years in family, discipleship, and pastoral ministry. Brian earned a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently earning a Ph.D. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife Tara, and their three children, Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb, live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.