Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


I’m not the biggest fan of graduation ceremonies.  I didn’t even go to my own college graduation- which my mother is still a little annoyed about.  I don’t like them cuz I think they are very long, usually overly hot in temperature, and very boring.  Kinda like watching my kid play baseball.  You really have to value the team, because most of the time, I’m watching someone else’s kid play baseball or someone else’s kid graduate.

But nonetheless, I have 2 graduation ceremonies to go to this week.  One was today as Tyler graduated from 5th grade and one is tomorrow for TJ’s graduation from 8th.  I’m super excited for them and very very proud of them both.  I wouldn’t miss it for the world, unless I could watch my own kids graduate and then peace out :))

Today, during Tyler’s graduation, each kid was given a “scroll” (read random poem rolled into tube and tied with string) at graduation and asked to complete a sentence with a single word as it was handed to them.  Each of them was given a scroll and then they said into the mic,  “When I grow up I want to be a __________”.   As I sat there and listened to something close to 100 5th graders tell me what they wanted to be when they grew up, here’s what I learned:

NONE OF THEM WANT TO BE A “BLUE COLLAR” WORKER:  Not one kid said they want to grow up to be a contractor, plumber, electrician, finish carpenter, tile layer, concrete worker… nothing.  Not one. I wonder if this is just our school or if it’s a symptom of a larger culture that does not value “work ethic”. I don’t know why I noticed this group necessarily, but I just found it interesting.  (No one said anything about working for a non-profit… religious or otherwise either)

WE HAVE MADE HEROES OUT OF ATHLETES:  3 students said they wanted to be teachers.  One said a cop. One said a fire fighter.  But the largest concentration (I bet at least 15 students) was to play some kinda sport professionally.   I listened carefully several times over as a 4 foot high boy told me that when he grows up (presumably really UP), he wants to be a professional basketball player.  Really?  It’s crazy to me that playing a sport can be a vocation.  (My own son said he wanted to be a professional soccer player)  Awesome.  Unlikely, but awesome.  I love to play sports, but I still scratched my head at each of these.  Some I’m sure said it just cuz they love the game and presumably, they want to do what they love for a lifetime. It’s kinda innocent on one side.  But, the other side is that many of these kids want to be athletes because deep down inside, we’ve told them in our culture, those are the real heros and they’ll make you rich, famous, and happy.  And that’s not true.

WE ALSO HAVE TAUGHT KIDS FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE THAT CAREER AND IDENTITY ARE ONE AND THE SAME.   And I don’t think it’s healthy.  It’s logical. It’s just not healthy. It’s the natural answer to the question “When I grow up I want to be a ________”.  But I still don’t think the best answer to that question is a vocation or that it’s the best question to encourage students to profess on their way out of elementary school in the first place.

I don’t think the identity thing is helpful.  In fact, speaking from my own vantage point, I think a lot of pastors see their job as their identity.  It is a constant struggle for me to not do this. When we do, the result is that it literally destroys the pastor when ministry falls short.  Not just because the ministry fell short, but because there was so much riding on that decision.  When we are our career, everything becomes about “us” instead of the mission.  If a child is taught they “are their career”, then when they lose a job or make a mistake, they don’t just affect their take home pay, they lose a piece of themselves too.

I also don’t think it’s helpful in terms of vision.  I think I would have much rather the students told me a character trait or an issue they wanted to fight for in their future than a career goal.  How very different and even inspiring this moment could have been if it was more about them and less about a job.   Instead of,  ‘I want to be a teacher or engineer or fashion designer or police officer, etc”, I think it would have been awesome to have heard student say, “When I grow up, I want to fight poverty, I want to be a peace maker, I want to show compassion in the medical field”.  Maybe I want to be “a trusted friend or a trail blazer of new ideas or a man/woman of great faith.”  Anything other than just a “job title”.

Perhaps we’d all be better off (regardless of age or vocation) if we asked ourselves a fresh today, “who do I want to be when I grow up?” instead of “What job do I want to make some money doing”.


  1. Brian, not to toot my own horn here but this very idea you write about is why I differentiate with high school & college students between the what they want to do in life vs who they want to be. Now as a dad this is a little of a balance act cause a passion or dream of being a NFL athlete or a fireman I don’t want to poo-poo to early cause kids can be kids & dream. But hopefully convos can help them see the importance of character vs paycheck

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