Call them by name

The other day, a teen walked into our youth room. Another student immediately grew excited and exclaimed, “Oh great! It's the funny kid!”

I'm pretty sure the funny kid didn't hear this other teen and for that I'm thankful. I responded by greeting the funny kid by name, in hopes that the teen who'd called him that would hear me and follow suit.

I did so because knowing someone's name is important.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago in a discussion with my high school students about Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush. There, God gives Moses his name, I Am.

In my discussion with my students, we acknowledged the weirdness of God's name for himself but then continued to wrestle with why it's so significant that this all-powerful God gives himself a name.

Eventually, teens concluded that it's awfully hard to relate to someone if you don't know their name. Without a name, God is unapproachable – an all-powerful God who remains distinctly separate from his people. In contrast, learning someone's name makes them knowable. It makes them relatable.

That's true of God.

It's also true of people.

For that reason, I constantly emphasize people's names in my ministry.

To help teens (and adult leaders!) learn names, I repeat them... Over and over again. In fact, I rarely engage in a conversation or discussion in which I don't call teens by name. (As an added bonus, this practice also helps imprint people's names in my own mind.)

Calling people by name seems so simple that at times, I think we take doing so for granted.

But then something happens and we realize how often teens are called something other than their actual name, things like

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Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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