I’m sure we’re all familiar with the “Sticks and stones…” rebuttal to the name-calling that was so pervasive on the playground while we were growing up. The funny thing is, the more I said that little poem-ette, the less I believed it. And as a 4th grader, I had trouble refuting what they were saying because I hadn’t really found my identity in anything more than how well I could play Tecmo Super Bowl on Nintendo (let alone in Jesus).
I think I began to believe it less and less because if they were calling me that over and over again, maybe it was true. Maybe I was a (fill in the blank). Their name(s) for me started to affect how I saw myself and what I thought of myself.
It happens in ministry too. So many times we call people certain names or give them titles that really, aren’t that encouraging. They’re innocent enough and to a certain extent might describe that person exactly. But these names lack vision, direction, and might convey something totally opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish as a ministry.
Here are two ways that we at Wooster Grace Student Ministries have changed how we refer to people in our ministry.
What we used to say: Volunteer
What it implies/conveys: It implies a lack of ownership, vision and even a separation between the leadership team and the people brought on to see that vision come to life. There’s a sense of “come and go as you please” with little to no accountability. There’s not a lot of connection or commitment because the “volunteer” says that if he/she doesn’t do it, then someone else probably will.
What we say now: Adult Leader
What it implies/conveys: This conveys an idea of partnership between the leadership team (paid and unpaid) and gives a vision for what is expected. We are looking for people to do more than just “show up”, we are looking for leaders, adult leaders. Regardless of position or rotation or level of involvement, an Adult Leader acknowledges the opportunities to speak into the lives of students and make a lasting impact for Jesus.
What we used to say: Kid
What it implies/conveys: When you’re referring to a 3rd grader, okay, it applies. When you’re referring to an 11th grader, not so much. Once “kids” get into 7th and 8th grade, they are looking to be challenged and treated more and more like adults. And once they get into those grades, the word “kid” becomes more like an insult than an accurate descriptor and carries an ever-increasingly negative connotation as the “kids” get older.
What we say now: Student
What it implies/conveys: It tells them exactly what we should be telling them as they get into 7th and 8th grade, that they’re not a kid anymore. They need to see that we acknowledge that they are growing up and with that they are asking questions about themselves, about faith, and the things they’ve been told all their lives. By using the word “student”, it separates them from jr. church and their little siblings and gives them a chance to grow as “students” of the Word.
Now, I’m not going to say using words like “volunteer” and “kid” is an altogether bad thing. But we have chosen to go a different route with our verbiage; one that we think conveys a little more identity and vision and hopefully pushes each of those groups to a better understanding of their Savior.