Editors’ note: 

TGC’s new “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question about how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]

My teen wants to get a job this summer, but I’m not sure how to help him apply wisely. What things should I discuss with him about possible positions? How can we consider pay, hours, working on Sunday, work environment/culture, resume-building, and transportation to and from work?

I volunteered to take this question because I’ve had to spend far too much time thinking about these issues.

From the time I became a teenager until I joined the Marines (at 19), I worked a dozen different jobs. At various times I worked as an assistant to an oilfield electrician (fixing motors on pump jacks), an assistant to an irrigator (putting pipes in soil), and an assistant to a farrier (pulling horseshoes off ponies). Often I had multiple jobs, such as when I worked as a telemarketer, waiter, and pizza delivery driver. I also worked at a fast-food restaurant making fries and at an auto-parts factory making emergency brakes for the Ford Taurus.

Five Factors

I had a lot of jobs, but not much guidance. Here’s what I wish I’d had known back then.

1. Pay and Hours

The primary question to be answered when considering this issue is What does my teen most need from of this job? For many families, the answer is simply money. Many teens take summer jobs because they need money to supplement the family income, often by allowing them to partially pay for their own consumption. In such cases the key formula is “earnings = pay x hours”—you want to maximize the amount earned by taking the job that either pays the most or offers the most hours the teen can work. This may seem obvious, but many a teen has turned down a job paying $7.25 for 15 hours to take “more money” at $8 for 10 hours a week.

2. Working on Sunday

There’s no prohibition in the Bible about Christians working on Sunday. Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath. What we find in Scripture is an admonition against “neglecting to meet together” as the church (Heb. 10:25). You and your teen need to consider what this means in your situation, and how taking a job will affect fulfilling that command.

3. Resume-Building

If your teen’s taking a job because it will “look good on a resume,” then he’s likely on a privileged path and doesn’t need a summer job for a successful career. Jobs that do look good on such resumes are called “internships.” They often pay nothing—or pay with “experience”—because the teen isn’t perceived as adding value. The exception is “blue-collar” jobs in which the skills are directly transferable to a specific trade. If your child is thinking of taking up a skilled trade requiring manual labor, then working in that area now will give him an edge on future competition.

4. Work Environment and Culture

The primary concern about the work culture should be about avoiding sinful influences. Scripture has a lot to say about the company we keep: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13:20); “My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them” (Prov. 1:10); “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33). For better and for worse, your child will be influenced by the people he associates with during a summer job.

I know that in my experience as a young worker, I was more likely to be led astray than to lead others to Christ.

In our attempt to be caring and compassionate, we sometimes put our children in relational danger. We encourage our child to befriend peers the apostle Paul would deem “bad company,” and justify the relationship by telling ourselves our child will be a good—perhaps even godly— influence on a wayward neighbor. But we Christian parents tend to overestimate the moral influence and leadership abilities of our children. Instead of being a role model, our children may be the ones enticed to sin. I know that in my experience as a young worker, I was more likely to be led astray than to lead others to Christ.

5. Transportation to and from Work

The burden of transportation should be on the teen, not on Mom—and definitely not on the manager (Phil. 2:4). It’s better for him to take a low-paying job where he can walk to work on time than a higher-paying job he’ll frequently be late for due to lacking a ride.

The Nature of Calling

I will include one other factor: the teen should understand the nature of calling.

A survey by the Barna Group found a majority of Christian workers believe most occupations can be categorized as “callings.” But Barna also found Christians think there is a hierarchy in this regard, with ministry-related jobs at the top and more technical jobs at the bottom. More than half of Christians say being a pastor, missionary, worship leader, or parent is “usually a calling,” while slightly fewer than half believe that being an accountant, pediatrician, firefighter, or non-pastoral church staff is “sometimes a calling.”

Know which of the jobs I had that were my “calling”? All of them. The same is true for your teen.

Our calling is whatever work God has called us to do wherever we are at any particular time. If you have a legitimate job, it’s because God has called you to that work. God calls us to such work because our labor serves the needs of our neighbors. In fact, for most of us, the labor we’re engaged in for our jobs is the primary way we serve our neighbors (1 Pet. 4:10).

Let your teen know that whatever job he takes, he is to “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23–24).

You can read other installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.