Everyone has pet peeves, right? I know I do. By their nature and name, ‘pet’ peeves are subjective and personal. So I fully admit that while there are four terms/phrases I’m quite confident we should do away with in ministry circles, I realize these are my issue. In other words, you are more than welcome to disagree and be wrong!
Several years ago now, I was hosting a group of 20 junior high pastors for a few days of interaction and thinking. And Christian Smith, the noted sociologist responsible for the National Study of Youth and Religion, was our guest for a half-day. At the end of our time with him, I asked, “If you could get all youth workers to stop doing one thing, what would it be?” I expected his response to have something to do with how we talk about or lead teenagers in faith formation. But he surprised me with, “I wish all youth workers would stop using the word ‘students’ when referring to teenagers.” (Or he may have said ‘young people,’ or some other term.) He went on, “‘Student’ is a role, not an identity.”
Smith’s little statement had a big impact on my thinking, and I’ve come around to completely agree. When I’m speaking about teenagers these days, I usually use that word (teenagers); and when I’m speaking to them, I usually use something aspirational like ‘young men’ and ‘young women,’ or something similar. I agree (I’m projecting that some of you are thinking this) that we don’t have a perfect term. But I try hard not to use ‘students’ unless I’m specifically talking about that role.
Along the same lines, I try very hard not to use the term ‘kids’ when referring to (or even more so when talking to) teenagers. Really, I feel MUCH more strongly about this one than I do ‘students.’ I think it’s demeaning and diminishing. I know it’s easy, and a natural part of our language. But language communicates all sorts of meaning. Language teaches.
This one isn’t so much a ‘youth ministry’ term; but I see and hear it used all the time in youth ministry circles when referring to female youth workers, female volunteers and teenage girls. The term ‘lady’ refers to behavior. A woman is (in the true sense of the word) considered to be a lady if she is ‘behaving’ properly, meeting the imposed expectations of ladylike behavior. In the same sense that ‘students’ refers to role, not identity, ‘ladies’ refers to behavior, not identity. You might think I’m overstating this, but the use of this word does harm to women, implying that their value and worth is based on their behavior.
And finally, a phrase. Youth workers seem to think it’s great to say that they want to ‘love on students’ or ‘love on teenagers.’ I understand (and very support) the sentiment behind this. But it is simply creepy language usage. Find another way to explain your good and worthy intentions. ‘Show love’ or simply ‘love’ are both much better.
So: What ministry language pet peeves do you have?