I admit a general hangup with labeling, but I often think it does matter whatchacallit.  Sometimes, it matters a lot.

If it’s unimaginative, chaotic, seemingly unending noise and you call it “music,” you’re either less than fully educated or artless (or a punk).

If it’s persons doing jobs, and you call it “human resources,” the persons involved may feel de-humanized, as though they are now just one step up (or down!) from technological resources.

If it’s charitable giving and you call it “tithing” in this age, I’ll resist your assumptions and will be able to make a strong case.

According to some estimations, if it’s youth ministry and you’ve been calling it “student ministry,” a whole generation of young people might have been lulled into feeling that developing Christianity was just another class to sit through as a “student.”

It seems to me that this assessment is somewhat on target but overstated.  As an educator, I am compelled first to advocate the better sides of teaching and student-ing.  It’s certainly not inherently negative to be called, or thought of as, a student.  Yet the reality that many young people live in their schools is not entirely positive, and I acknowledge the likely negative association with being a student in a desk-chair, listening to a typical teacher drone on un-enthusiastically and periodically giving assignments and saying “be quiet” and grading papers.

When the business world rejected the label “personnel” and moved toward “human resources,” I imagine it sounded more “human” to some.  I’d say they weren’t too attentive to the second half of the term, “resources,” which also comes into play with reams of paper, reference materials, computers and other machines, and other non-human stuff.

Similarly, when some people rejected “youth ministry,” I imagine they were trying to avoid a negative connotation of ministry to the youthful, i.e., to those “younger than the adults and therefore not of full-fledged importance.”  I was there in one church when this labeling change occurred, and I’d say it was almost universally seen as either neutral or positive, but I’m not sure the label made any ultimate difference.  Aside:  any full understanding of “disciple” involves the idea of being a student/learner who follows, and perhaps that idea was involved in the original labeling “student ministry.”  Surely at least that much can be seen as a positive.

A change in terminology can be helpful or neutral or negative.  Perhaps it is time to change again, in one or more of the above cases.

For more on the possible fallout of calling it “student ministry” for the last generation or so, see this post by Thom Schultz of Group Publishing:

The Day That Disabled Our Youth Ministry

I suspect that the negative import of the label “student ministry”—certainly more a neutral factor than an inherently positive one, even when it was first suggested—has been overestimated.   Surely it’s the total picture of church experience, not a simple label for the “youth group,” that has led to decreasing numbers of real believers and disciples among the so-called “millennials.” 

Younger (and older) people have left and are leaving for many different reasons.

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