Neither of us grew up in the church, but it didn’t take long to learn there was plenty of room for me (Tim), but not quite as much room for Tasha. The lesson was often subtle, but occasionally it reared its head in a backhanded comment or clear statement.
In the youth ministry world, we’re often (but not always) insulated from the complimentarian/egalitarian debate. But even in our ministry circles, it’s hard not to notice the different ways we treat girls and boys in youth groups. (If you’re wondering where we land on this issue, you should know Tasha is an ordained pastor.)
Regardless of where you land on this issue, I’m assuming we can all agree that we want girls and boys to feel equally loved, cared for, and valued. Below are a few questions we might consider that can help us avoid mistakes that we make when thinking about girls, youth ministry, and leadership:
- When a girl experiences a struggle we label it “drama.” When a boy experiences a struggle we call it “a struggle” or “a problem.” What are we communicating when we use loaded words like these? Do we care for “drama” and “struggles” with the same level of concern?
- We say we value women in leadership, but how many women serve in leadership on our staff? How often do we have women on stage? What voice do women have in the overall vision of the ministry? How are female leaders valued with respect to male leaders?
- When thinking about bringing in a female speaker to lead your camp, do you wonder if the boys will be able to connect with her? We likely don’t have this thought about the girls in our youth groups hearing a male speaker, but for some reason we worry boys may not connect if they hear a feminine voice teach John 3:16.
- If we do have a female teacher, do we only want her to talk about Esther or Mary? In the same way a female should teach the story of Noah, a male should teach the story of Ruth. In the same way girls can learn from Jonah, boys can learn from Rahab.
- If we want a seasoned female youth worker to lead a workshop for other youth workers, do we only want her to address her experiences with girls and girl related issues? It’s good that we are asking women to help us understand girls and girl-related issues, but we should probably ask her thoughts about youth ministry in general as well. In other words, in the same way a man can talk about boys and girls and youth ministry, a woman can talk about girls and boys and youth ministry as well.
- Does your ministry give boys more opportunities for one-on-one mentoring than girls, because your ministry has more men than women in leadership? We’re not necessarily suggesting girls spend one-on-one time with male youth leaders, but how are we planning creative ways for boys and girls to have opportunities to receive mentoring from trained youth workers?
- Do we talk about the genders with the same level of respect? Are our illustrations balanced to connect with both boy and girls? Do we speak with positive regard to and about boys and girls?
Please don’t miss the point of this article. We’re not picking a theological fight. We’re not assuming that all boys are the same and all girls are the same. And we’re not suggesting bra-burning for your next youth group game. We’re wanting all students – boys and girls – to know there’s plenty of room, and they have a sacred place in our youth groups. And in the church. And in the Kingdom of God.
Thanks for loving students,
Tim and Tasha