Recently I found myself in the middle of a strange debate with a well meaning guy in youth ministry. He told me the “real” job of women in this type of ministry is to support their husbands who hold paid positions. “What if a woman never gets married?” I asked. His answer was, “As long as they don’t have children, then I guess they can do this full-time.”
I have had these types of conversations before, many times actually. I am not even discussing a theological debate about “where” women can serve in the church. I am discussing the niche specifically of youth ministry. When we get together with other women we talk about it, often. Yet, I think it’s a sticky subject that we tend to avoid in public forums.
For me I think it’s that I tend to avoid topics that can just spiral down into an unhelpful cesspool of complaining. Yet, in light of some recent discussions I think it’s worth sharing with you some “REAL LIFE” stories from myself and others that have happened because of their gender:
“We once lived with a broken water heater for a year in staff housing with a youth ministry, because the caretaker didn’t like that I wouldn’t ‘just stay home and take care of my babies.'”
“I have been told my personality is too passionate, too blunt, too emotional for leading in youth ministry.”
“It’s assumed that because I am a woman, the position I want to hold within the youth ministry is administrative. Not only am I not administrative, I don’t enjoy those types of roles.”
“When students break down I have been told to go be relational, because you know women are just more relational. As an introvert who is shy, I am actually better at organizing programs than getting to know kids.”
From a guy: “Someday when I get married my wife can be paid to do this full time, as long as she understands it’s still her job to have dinner on the table every night at six.”
This is a handful of what we hear daily. There are times when we are treated like “Cinderella.” You can do this ministry thing as long as you tend to your REAL duties as a woman. In the meantime being in ministry does not mean that we ignore the rest of our family or leave our children on the side of the road. We are subject to putting ministry ahead of family and more importantly ahead of Jesus, just like any other PERSON. Women who aren’t married aren’t using their ministry as a “stopgap” until they find a husband.
Women who do feel CALLED to support their husbands who are paid full-time feel as if it is their ministry too. They would say they are partners not “supporters.” Actually, some wives actually support their husbands calling to youth ministry, just like they would support their spouse in anything else. This means they aren’t the “extra volunteer.” They love their spouse and pray for them, but have passions elsewhere.
There is so much to say on this topic and more words in my heart than I have to share in a short post.
There have been attitudes and words said to my face that are simply hurtful. The problem with these types of attitudes is they assume the women in our midst are not seeking the Lord or putting Him first. It makes the presumption they have ignored Christ and are doing what they want, therefore walking in sin. It’s “clear” what the “best” way is in the Bible. Yet, in the very lineage of Jesus there is an ex-prostitute (Rahab), a woman who went to extreme lengths (including deception) to clear her family name (Tamar), another taken advantage of by a King (Bathsheba), one who broke customs and boldly laid at the feet of a man (Ruth) and finally the one called “blessed among women” (Mary). These women are who Jesus CHOSE to be in his family line. This is a lineage of bold, imperfect women who would go to great lengths to see justice prevail.
Today’s point is this: Before you say you don’t have “any” misconceptions about women in youth ministry, think about what’s really in your heart. I was told I “had” to quit when I had children. I did. Honestly, I was miserable. My daughter was 5 months old when I went back.
Now, did I work 60 hour weeks anymore? No.
I took her with me, and when I had to, I worked less hours. I recognized the gift I had in my family, and I wanted to enjoy them. For me I was pushed aside so often I set out on a path to prove myself. When my kids were in elementary school my husband sat me down and told me it was time to stop trying so hard. I was losing my family in my quest to show everyone what I was capable of. I even worked a high profile role once where I was told, “You wanted to show the world a high capacity woman leader, now you have to prove it.”
Why? Jesus doesn’t ask me to prove myself to Him. I think often times we don’t even realize our misconceptions on this topic. Please don’t say it doesn’t happen. It does. It’s important we don’t pretend it’s not there, while at the same time not getting stuck in hurt because it does. He asks us to follow Him. He gave us each a personality and talents on purpose to reflect His glory.
He made me a woman who is a wife, a Mom, and called to family ministry.
There are women who tell me, “I could never do what you do.” You know what I tell them? “Good, because God has called you to be you.” I think this is true of each of us…man or woman.
What are your “truths” about women in youth ministry?
17 thoughts on “The Truth About Women In Youth Ministry”
I have been asked many times “so what do you want to be when you grow up?”, as I sit on both a BA and MA in Youth Ministry. At first it angered me greatly and I too felt I had to work harder than anyone else just to prove myself. I have learned that the minute my gender becomes an issue we have lost the focus on Christ and perhaps God is moving me on somewhere else. After many years, God has showed me that people most of the time are ignorant to truth. Which instead of anger I need to see an opportunity to love them.
I do find that people often believe that “I” must have a submissive husband sitting at home who could speak up for himself. This could not be farther from the truth. My husband is more knowledgable in scripture than I am. He is able to preach, lead, and serve with the best of them. However, he recognizes my calling just as much and supports it wholeheartly. He has willingly moved and taken a job he doesn’t really like just so I can do what I do. If it wasn’t God led we would be on a path for distruction.
There finally are good conversations happening in which young females who feel called to ministry do not have to go it alone. Thank you for being in the trenches and for this article.
Jo Beth- Thanks so much for lending your thoughts. Thank you for the true reminder that when we lose focus on Christ, all is lost anyway. I too have been accused of a husband who must be “submissive” because he lets me shine. I think instead people forget when you are truly two halves of a whole the Lord then gives you the ability to learn to serve each other 🙂
Hey. Great post
We often forget others have similar issues that cross genders. Like admin junk but not making light of the importance of women in ministry to youth. I am glad God made us all different in His image
Thanks for sharing and I hope to be more supportive with my youth worker lady friends in the future.
John- thanks so much for your great words! Yep- it’s so much that sometimes “issues” are issues.
I have to be honest… I grew up in one of those Hell Fire and brimstone preaching churches where women wore dresses and if they wore jeans they were an outcast. So I get called to the ministry and I see women doing youth ministry and I was like hey… That’s wrong…. I’m sorry that I ever said those things.. I think women in youth ministry is great! I thank you for this article. In fact I even have learned some things from a woman in youth ministry… I know you are shocked as well….. ( sarcasm)
Much love ladies!
Leneita, thank you so much for your honest and eloquent words. This was a very thought provoking article that nails a much needed trend in ministry that has to end. I recognize that the personal stories weren’t as agregious as they could have been, but I was still heart broken to hear these individuals beinging discouraged from their God-endowed calling. It’s embarrassing that the church can be so far behind in regards to women working professionally in roles they’re not only called to, but qualified for.
My wife was an incredible full time youth worker at a multisite mega church for five years before moving onto a new role at a widely known “family based” Christian organization. She was one of the most gifted youth pastors I’ve met before we got romantically involved.
Thanks again for this article I think there are thousands of women in ministry and who are wanting to pursue ministry that need to be encouraged by this article.
Jason- I think many women get discouraged and leave as well. I think often times when the positions don’t come, then they tend to just give up and move on. Also, such a good point about “qualified” as well as called.
I’ll be honest. I was really surprise to read this article. While I know that this happens, I didn’t realise that it was a prevalent problem. When my church started up the youth group, our pastor came to the house and approached my wife to lead it, not me. In addition, there are many other churches in our area that have women leading the youth groups, maybe even the majority.
That said, we are definitely in Small Town USA with smaller churches. I would love to see if there is a correlation between church size and the likelihood of encountering these attitudes.
Jeremy, it’s an interesting question that I wish had a simply answer. My experience, which was like all those described above, was in Small Town USA.
I have found supportive people in each church and also non-supportive people. I have worked in churches of all settings iver the last 25 years. The worst was when a pastor would only invite male volunteers to the admin meetings and say the women weren’t needed for decision making:0. Little did he know that his team of 10 volunteers was being led by 2 if the women and we made all the decisions while consulting the entire team. I don’t think people mean to be hurtful, I think they just grew up seeing or hearing that women should not be in ministry. It is our job to lovingly portray that God can call whomever He wants to do His work! I’m just thankful that my husband is extremely supportive and an active parent as well.
Jeremy, my experiences have been in both “small town” and in larger areas as well. I think honestly, it depends on the leader you land with. Honestly, I have found there are three types of men who talk about women in leadership. 1. Those who see the calling and qualifications and not the gender. 2. Those who genuinely believe they have “no bias” until you hit a ceiling they have for you that isn’t for men. 3. Those who are honest with the reality they aren’t comfortable with women leading. The largest number I encounter honestly is #2. In conversation they genuinely believe the bias isn’t there- until you begin to dig and there are double standards.
What amazed me was I was told that these kids need a good, strong role model. I had an incredible team of both men and women serving the youth. The men I had were of different backgrounds and were great with the youth. A couple of our boys, two brothers, mom left the family and caused huge problems for the boys. They needed a woman to love them, show them they are worthy and that not all women were bad. These two boys now accept hugs and walk a bit taller. The part that amazed me most about this is it came from a female pastor who had done youth ministry as well.
Bridget! Such a great point about role models. We always talk about boys needed Godly men in their lives, however, it is equally important for youth to see women who love the Lord in different ways.
Wow. What a great piece. It is funny how when this happens you think it’s only happening to you. . . . Why is it a woman is blamed for giving up her duty to her family if she is in full time ministry but the man does not receive that same pressure if he is gone the long hours instead? I have encountered many of the attitudes expressed here and it is refreshing to see that I’m not crazy!!
Bethany- I have often found it ironic that the voices in ministry who scream the loudest for a family centric model, are traveling across the country away from home often. I think we fail to see that not being present- is not being present regardless of gender. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY!!!
Thank you Leneita!! I have been in youth ministry for 22 years and as I was reading your post I felt like you were reading my mind! When I had my first child, I had the chance to stay home for a while and like you, I hated it. My calling was to youth and youth ministry and i had to go back. It has been challenging at times to balance ministry and family, but we do the best we can! I also appreciate your words about women following their calling are not ignoring Jesus or living a sinful lifestyle, the church I currently serve is in a town where several other churches believe that women should not lead at all and have made it very clear that their youth should not have anything to do with our youth. It’s very discouraging and sad. However, we have a great team of youth volunteers and a growing ministry- so God is Good even when others are not!
I’m passionate about helping the children grow in Jesus Christ’s teaching. One day I was seeing a youth pastor preaching to children, I enjoyed seeing them learning. Like he was a teacher in a classroom. Why is it difficult for a woman to preach and teach in the church? We already have the concept of teaching our children from birth and as teachers in school. Why not in church? I really think is needed more, because we already have the skills to manage children. I strongly believe we can help grow our youth to a better understanding of God’s path. I’m in a university studying on a path to becoming a youth pastor. Yes, I know I will have people not liking my calling but I stand firm in teaching children is what I do best. And I will give my Lord my best.