A ministry colleague recently made me aware of how some child and youth ministry leaders and teachers refer to the children/youth in their care as “my” kids or “my” students. Since then, I have come across a number of examples of this sort of language in postings on various blogsites. So, you might ask, what is the problem? On the surface of things, there might seem to be none at all. When Christian child/youth leaders and teachers speak or write this way I believe they do so out of a sense of genuine affection and care for the children and young people they serve. But words matter! They often carry implicit assumptions and can convey messages and signals that are not altogether helpful or healthy.
The word “my” suggests ownership or possession. Strictly speaking, no human can speak of another person as “mine” – we all ultimately belong to God and are his gifts to one another. Even as a parent, my children are only secondarily “mine”. They are given to me to care for and tend on God’s behalf and in God’s name. My role ultimately is not to draw attention to myself but to point them to God as their heavenly parent. I wonder if the use of “my” by child/youth leaders and teachers sometimes indicates an overextended relationship dynamic. Child/youth leaders and teachers can fall into the trap of focusing more on developing relationships with the children and youth in their groups or classes than helping them know and receive Jesus as their divine friend (John 15:15) and Savior. Our role is to nurture them as children of God, not to gather them around ourselves as our own “disciples”. In the words of John the Baptist, “it is necessary for him to increase and for me to decrease.“
I also wonder if an unthinking use of the word “my” dilutes and diminishes the role and importance of parents and the wider faith community in nurturing children and youth as followers of Jesus. In the household of God the little ones are OUR children to tend together. The most effective faith formation takes place where child and youth ministry leaders, parents and other adults of faith have a shared sense of partnership in passing on the faith. If, as a ministry leader or teacher, I am speaking of a child or young person as “mine”, I am probably not actively working to enable others to come alongside me in the name of Jesus. The best child/youth ministry leaders and teachers are those who are mature and secure enough in their identity as children of God to get out of the road themselves and facilitate a web of intergenerational relationships in the lives of the children/youth of their congregations.
What do you think?