Teaching Youth the “Work” Ethic

By Wayne Jackson

My father was not a Christian. Occasionally, he expressed doubt about the existence of God. I never heard him pray, and he never taught the Bible to me. But I loved him and he loved me, and he did teach me some important values, not the least of which was the worth of honest, diligent labor. In other words, the dignity of hard work.

When I was nine or ten, I was a helper on a paper route, delivering newspapers before daylight and in the afternoons – six days a week. On the day before my twelfth birthday, we moved into a rural area of Tennessee north of Nashville. I secured a “job” with the local blacksmith, who lived down the hill and across the road from our old home place. I went into the woods each evening, sought out his milk cow (locating her by the bell around her neck), and drove her to his barn. My salary was twenty-five cents a week.

Eventually I advanced, taking a job at a nearby grocery store after school in the afternoons and on Saturdays. I stacked bottles, dusted shelves, etc. My wage was ten cents an hour. What to do with all that wealth!

Soon I was able to buy two piglets, which I raised on “slop” that I regularly collected from neighbors just after dawn on those beautiful southern mornings. As I grew older, I was able to secure a cow, and finally some calves. In high school, I fattened a beautiful Hereford steer for showing at the fall fair. The animal cost me $100. But the “stock market” fell that year and my prize-winning, nine-hundred-pound steer sold for $125. I learned that there are bitter disappointments in the business world!

But I worked on. I plowed a field, planted and harvested corn to feed my animals. One year I set out an acre of strawberries. That was the summer we had a severe drought and I harvested not one berry from that non-crop. What to do? Get up and go again!

I shall always be grateful to my parents for teaching me something about the ethics and rewards of honest work. I would like to pass along some of the “work” principles that I think would serve well the youth of this day.

  1. Do not allow your children to simply sit around, wasting an inordinate amount of time watching TV, playing video games, and immersing themselves in every conceivable sport, etc. A parent may boast, “My son ‘lettered’ in four sports.” I can tell you this. He did not “letter” in learning how to work and help pay his own way at the same time. There is more to life than “playing” – though one would scarcely know it, by watching some adults! Recreation is intended to “re-create” after vigorous labor; it should be engaged in moderation; not in obsession.
  2. Do not give your children everything on a silver platter as if they were royalty within your home. They should learn responsibility. It will not hurt them to do chores, or (if old enough) get a part-time job to help pay for their clothes, their own recreational activities, etc. Is it any wonder that many young adults continue to run to “daddy” and “mommy” for every conceivable need – even after they’ve left home – if indeed they ever do leave (see Gen. 2:24)?
  3. Teach your youngsters the value of honest work. Employers recognize and diligently seek men and women of integrity. Train your children in the principle of quality labor for fair pay. And a part of honesty is doing your best. A good person will do good work; he/she will not turn out a shoddy product in the interest of “getting on” with some personal pursuit. Moreover, they will put in a full day’s work for a day’s pay. These concepts will result in rich dividends in your child’s adult life. Employers today are searching for workers who are drug-free, honest, and diligent.
  4. Encourage your offspring to look toward a vocation in which they can be happy. What a dismal life it must be to arise each morning and head off to a job that is despised – no matter how much it pays. Such can make human existence miserable. At the same time, children must be taught that no job will be without its discouraging times. One has to learn that you take the rough with the smooth, and learn and grow thereby. One sees so many young adults who bounce from one job to another, ever seeking to “find” themselves. Seemingly, some never do.
  5. Teach your children that a vocation that allows him/her to have quality family time is more important than a high-wage position where one is out of town most of the time. Some wives complain because their husbands are “on the road” so much, yet they revel in the “things” those super-incomes can obtain. The lack of precious time with your children can never be retrieved when they are gone from your home.
  6. The most important thing that a parent can train his child to recognize is the fact that his occupation needs to be consistent with a Christian life. Guide your youngsters away from vocations that are questionable in ethics, or that tend to create tempting situations. Train them to plan toward an occupation in which they can devote quality time to the church, attending at least most of the services, and being able to assume responsibilities that work for the welfare of the congregation as a whole. Quips like, “I just don’t have the time to serve as a deacon,” or “My schedule simply will not allow me to teach a class,” are common in the body of Christ. Service to Christ should be the most driving force in one’s life (Mt. 6:33).

Finally, reflect upon this. The work ethic was given to man in the garden – even before the original Fall. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). From that early time, responsible spiritual people have acknowledged that whatever one’s secular vocation may be, ultimately, God is the Supervisor for whom they labor (Eph. 6:5-6), and he is to be glorified thereby. Remember also that the Son of God was a carpenter before he became a preacher. How satisfying it must have been to have owned a piece of furniture made with those diligent hands!

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.