There are obviously taboo words in the world of student ministry – this article is not about those. Instead I want to talk about 3 words we all use regularly and repeatedly in our ministry context. 3 words that I think we need to remove from our vocabulary.
Why is this talk of language important? Because the words we use define our ministry, our vision, and our viewpoint.
Most of us use the word “kids” all the time without even thinking about it. We use it when we’re talking about our teens and when we’re talking to a group of them. It’s an innocent sounding word, but it’s loaded with context.
I don’t know a single teen who would describe themselves as a “kid”. In fact for many of them, it’s a title they joyfully escaped the moment they became a teenager. Why? Because the word connotes a sense of childishness. It’s the exact opposite of “adult” – a classification so many of them are seeking. The word “teen” on the other hand, separates them from the little kids they used to be. When you call them a “kid”, they often feel lumped in with a bunch of 9 year-olds.
Most important, the word “kids” is not an empowering word. It’s a word with little to no positive worth. When people are called a “kid” the common inference is that they are “just a kid”. One of our biggest goals in student ministry should be to empower young people, to encourage them and build them up. Everything we do should be reinforcing our belief that God has called them to do great things – that he has anointed them and set them apart for GREATNESS now (not just later, when they’re adults). If they feel like we’ve labeled them as “just kids”, it becomes way harder to advocate that they live out 1 Timothy 4:12.
Specifically “youth GROUP”. I know, you’ve been calling your ministry “youth group” for years, but does that phrase accurately describe the vision for your ministry?
Groups, by definition, are:
a) Inward focused – they exist for the benefit of their members;
b) Membership oriented – there’s an implied membership requirement;
c) Separated from the larger community – they’re specifically segmented based on some characteristic or quality.
All of those things are (hopefully) the exact opposite of what your ministry is about:
a) Outward focused – seeking to share the Gospel with and reach students far from God;
b) Open to everyone – no membership, or prerequisites required;
c) Part of the larger church – worshipping and serving with the parish community.
So what word do you use in it’s place? I’d vote for “ministry”. I think phrases like “youth ministry” or “student ministry” more accurately describe what we’re doing.
I cringe when I hear people talk about “confirmation class” or “youth class”. Teens spend 5 days a week in classes (often being lectured at), they don’t want to come to church to sit in another class.
a) Break free of the classroom format – move to something more dynamic, interactive and discussion based.
b) Don’t meet in a classroom – make sure you remove any classroom vibes from your venue.
c) Stop calling it class – it doesn’t matter how dynamic the content or how cool the space, if you call it class, it will still feel like class.
Those are my top 3 words we need to stop using. What about you: what words do you think need to be removed from the youth ministry vocabulary?