Faith and Career Development: Complementary Tools in Reaching Teens

By Roger Wilcoxen

As a professional director of career services, who also leads a youth program in a religious community, I have found several points of congruence common both to career development and to faith-based, purpose-driven youth programming. These concepts are crucial in developing individuals who are not only equipped professionally, but are also fulfilled in their careers and life. Valid arguments have been made that career development and religious faith do not mix; yet I have discovered that they can at least be complementary. An individual's belief system can be a powerful motivator in developing career fulfillment.

Several concepts intertwine between career development and religious youth programming that can help individuals discover their potential and move toward fulfillment in life. These include Purpose, Guidance and Affirmation.


1. Purpose. Regardless of age, gender, or ethnic identity, finding purpose for living is foundational to the ability to develop dreams, and further, fulfillment. Many of today's teens seem to aimlessly sift through many complexities while pursuing education, career, and life in general. Faith community leaders hold up finding purpose as a goal for youth. Yet finding purpose can be difficult for individuals in a world that is full of contradictions and confusion.

Self-actualization is a typical goal for an individual trying to discover career potential; but "purpose" involves much more than just self-actualization. Purpose is not just concerned with finding one's self; it is also about fulfilling over-arching goals that involve others. Purpose is an inward expression of who we are, not what we are. If purpose is found in materialism or position, take away the position and materials and you only end up with purposeless living. I remember asking a retired Veteran what his dreams and aspirations were, and he stated that he had none. He had gone through life with no purpose, just surviving. How often have we heard tragic statements like his? How often could we, as youth programming leaders help avert such tragedy?

Teens model what they have been exposed to in their lives. So teens need leaders and mentors who not only speak about purpose and fulfillment, but demonstrate these realities themselves. In career development, counselors have the same goal. Many of us as counselors ask, "What is your dream job and what does it look like?" A good leading question, but how can the client identify a dream job if he or she is unable to identify a larger life purpose? When coaching for career development I often ask, "How do your abilities align with what you believe your purpose in life may be? And how can you articulate your purpose?"

2. Guidance. One of the aspects I experienced in my own development as a teen was parental guidance. Adults can have profound influences upon a teenager when modeling dream-making and dream-fulfilling. Teens often witness dreams as only distant fantasies that don't come true. As youth programming leaders, however, we have the privilege of guiding teenagers toward modest but achievable dreams. Guidance isn't about educating individuals toward their potentials as much as it is giving opportunities for discovery.

I have coached many teenagers in finding purpose and dreams through various volunteer experiences. Opening doors of opportunity for positive discovery helps the teenager grow intellectually, spiritually, and vocationally. These doors could be as small as volunteering at a food-kitchen, or simply helping clean up after youth events. These opportunities are valuable when developing a portfolio or resume precisely because they evidence an individual with the ability to envision and to act in ways that create positive change. The experiences gained through volunteering are easily transferable into skills that employers seek in qualified employees.

Yet guidance also involves educating teenagers about the process toward their life's goals and knowing how to appreciate the necessary steps. Delegating responsibilities for character development, introducing them to people in their fields of interest, and taking them to observe mentors at work are ideas that cost nothing except a person's time.

3. Affirmation. Affirmation is one of the most powerful tools for helping teens develop into "world changers". Affirmation isn't about agreeing with a teenager's beliefs, as much as it is directing individuals toward wholesome and satisfying dreams that benefit both the pursuer and others. I remember a particular teenager telling me she knew what not to do because her parents were clear about her boundaries. "Yet, what am I supposed to do within those boundaries?" Simply knowing when you are doing wrong does not move a person toward purposeful living. Parents, mentors, and youth programming leaders can generate positive change in teens by affirming them when they do things that are beneficial for themselves and others. This is true both in faith development and in career development. Individuals often tell me they know what they are not to do on a resume or in an interview, but seem not to grasp what to do. Affirmation is a process of discovery that enables individuals to grasp concepts that develop both professionalism and character.

Youth programming leaders and career counselors alike can utilize many tools in their helping capacity. Purpose, guidance and affirmation are some of the most powerful tools in influencing teenagers and helping them to develop into motivated, life-changing individuals with purpose, dreams, and eventually fulfillment.

Roger Wilcoxen serves as a youth pastor in Kansas City. He is currently Director of Career Services at Pinnacle Career Institute in Lawrence, KS were he has raised placement rates over 14% within a short time. He is finishing his MA in Counseling Psychology at University of Saint Mary Leavenworth, KS. Contact him at: roger.w.wilcoxen@hotmail.com

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