I have taken the past month off from writing anything on this blog, but amazingly it still gets some significant hits everyday. That encourages me to continue to write more about how God is using me and what I am learning through His word, through my relationships and through our intimate times of prayer.
Yesterday I received an email newsletter from Group Magazine. I appreciate Group Magazine and the folks who put it all together for youth workers around the world. It is a great resource. In the editoral column Rick Lawrence allowed Christian Smith (author of the book Soul Searching, which I strongly recommend that all youth pastors have on their book shelves) to write the column. In the column Christian Smith asks that student ministry return the label of youth ministry. Along with that students would be called youth and student pastors would be youth pastors.
His arguments in favor of this are that some of the students we work with are no longer in fact students, there may be teenagers in our high school groups that have dropped out of school, therefore they are not students. Another point he makes is what about home-schoolers who are not students in the traditional sense where do they fall?
He concludes with a plea to "Christian youth workers all over the country (you!) to change your “shaping” language—to use language that honors teenagers as whole human persons in God’s kingdom. Please stop calling teenagers students, and ask everyone around you to do the same."
I understand Christian Smith’s concern about how we address our groups. For years I rallied the adults in my church to consider changing their labeling of the kids (their language) to students (my language). These individuals were in the midst of life change as they left children’s ministry and entered into student ministry, especially in light of middle school ministry. Considering what Christian Smith says, our youth groups of middle school and high school are groups of students, they all attend school. For me I see little need to change the language for these groups.
But as I look at college ministries I understand that the language falls short. In college and career groups we do need to examine the language we use to call our groups. Calling this group “youth” falls short, similar to the change we see as an individual moves from children’s ministry into middle school ministry. I agree that calling this group “students” falls short too since many may not be attending school any longer. I also have concerns with labeling this group as “young adults” because this seems to convey a sense of less than a “real” adult. Isn’t that some of the same issues many are feeling in their churches currently?
I do not profess to have the answer. But what I do know is that as we lay out these arguments for and against a specific label we are showing that there are divisions in our churches. If you are at a certain age you are here or there, but few churches move beyond this to encourage all groups to come together in worship. While the children’s ministry and the student ministry are having their group time, adults are gathered for their group time. There is disconnect. Many college and career groups meet separately on Saturday or Sunday night, these individuals may help with student ministry but they do not meet with congregation. There is still disconnect from the gathered body of the church.
I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:14; 24-25 the body is not made up of one part but of many. (24-25) But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
Let’s consider ways to unite the many parts of the church into one body.