Eats, Shoots and Leaves

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Some months ago I was in a second-hand store, and noticed a series of grammatically incorrect signs. "Boys Shoes," "Boys' Shoe's," "Boy's shoes.'" It's fairly common to see a sign with incorrect punctuation, but this group of signs (all of which are incorrect) made me laugh. I imagined being the one sitting at the computer, designated with the daunting task of creating and printing these signs. "I don't know which is right, but at least one of them should be, I hope." Nope.

The book Eats, Shoots and Leaves (the cover of which is a picture of pistol packing pandas) shows the power of proper punctuation. It is filled with examples of the problems which occur as a result of poor grammar, misplaced punctuation and improper usage. One misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of a phrase or sentence and cause confusion or misdirection. Proper communication takes education, attention to detail, thoughtful consideration of structure and a lot of time and energy.

I am not affiliated in any way with the grammar police (in fact, you may have pointed out a few errors already).  But I am intrigued at the relationship between the position of youth workers, how we practice youth ministry, and the language that we use to explain the position and practice to our congregations.

The words we use to describe what we do has a direct relationship to how our ministry is perceived by the congregation and the people we serve. Inaccurate phrasing of titles, job descriptions and “what not” can lead to problems with expectations and evaluations. Sometimes words which are meant to be descriptions actually become prescriptions. If the words are inaccurate, our tasks as youth pastors/workers/coordinators/directors become inaccurate, we start to have problems and pandas start shooting instead of eating shoots.

Similarly, the language used in our practices in youth ministry vary drastically. Some churches have a thriving "silo" youth ministry, while others are experimenting with family or intergenerational ministry. Some use loaded words like "discipleship" or "mentoring," others use more common words like "just hanging out with the kids."  Some craft intentional relationship building activities, others provide a "better alternative" for a Friday night.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting a "carbon copy" model to be used in every church or situation. The beauty of the denomination is the variety of its churches and members. But I am intrigued by the question: how might a uniform language help bring clarity and strengthen all of our diverse ministries?

Here are some questions to think about.  Please comment, and let's work on this language.

  • What are some new words or phrases (in culture, in youth ministry models) popping up that need explanation or clarification?
  • Is your ministry to youth being confused for something it isn't because of the language you use to describe it to your congregation?
  • What structures ought to be in place to develop a "common language" or direction for youth ministry in the CRC?
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"Let's eat Grandma!" "Let's eat, Grandma!" Punctuation saves lives.
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I think, that until each generation thinks and processes things exactly the same (which, BTW, will NEVER happen), you will always need 2 languages to perform and promote youth ministry. The key is finding leaders who can communicate to both sides of the pew. Whether you hire/commission, a youth leader that is young - more charismatic with lots of energy - and knows the youth lingo really well, but not so hip on the older generations' way of speaking, or, an older more experienced maverick, that can't keep up with the undulating twists and changes of the youth movement(s), when it comes right down to it, they will need to understand and speak two different languages to either side and when they are able to balance those two languages intelligently and with expert precision, you will begin to see an unprecidented understanding between the goals and mission of the youth ministry program. 

Guide

When I think about the "language" we use, one miscommunication that happens often is the "language" of expectations. And this doesn't just apply to Youth Ministry, (which is where I hear it most) but in all areas of church in leadership. Our job descriptions as we read them and the congregations expectations of Youth leaders might be very different and this causes considerable tension.