3/16/12

Is church leadership out of reach for women in youth ministry?

Out of reach?

     The other day I was watching my 7 month old baby girl sit in her infant swing in our dining room area. She was swinging along happily, kicking her little feet. After a few minutes she looked up and aimed her blue eyes at the pink flower mobile over her head. She kept stretching her little arms out, trying to grasp the soft pink and brown flowers with her tiny fingers.. She was determined to get a little touch of those flowers above her head. They were out of reach. With no success she eventually gave up and returned to contently swinging and playing with her pacifier instead. It reminded me of how we as women in youth ministry often feel when reaching for leadership positions within the church. Is leadership out of reach for women in youth ministry? Do we give up too soon, contently pacified with what is available to us? Leadership is not out of reach for women in ministry.

     First, for every church that will not hire a female full time in youth ministry,  I guarantee there are enough who will. When I was 15, my dear friend Lissa invited me to her youth group.  Her youth group was very similar to mine, but also very different. They hosted (insert gasp) dances and alcohol was allowed (for the grown ups people!) at their annual all church street festival. Her Jesus loving church was a lot different than my Jesus loving church in many ways. Here is where I met Lissa's youth director, Barbara. She was a mom, she was seemingly a lot older than my hip in his twenties youth pastor and she was a woman. In the middle of sweaty teens jumping to "Criss Cross will make you jump jump..." in a church parish hall is where I realized youth pastors can be girls and I could one day be one. Call us directors, coordinators, whatever title you prefer, it's the same job regardless of the title on my email siggy.  At 15, I learned from Barbara, something which would change the trajectory of my entire life. Church leadership is not out of reach for women. I could be a woman in youth ministry. 
    
     If leadership is out of reach for you in youth ministry, then you are not stretching far enough. There are churches who may never hire a female youth worker, it's a sad reality. Hopefully you will know it upfront and can look elsewhere for a better fit.  The more comfortable you are in serving in other denominations, the more opportunities arise. I spent 8 of the best years of my life serving at a Presbyterian church, even though I am not reformed in my theology, nor am I hip on baptizing babies, being Baptist and all. They graciously let me be me, and I came to love confirmation classes as it fulfilled much of the same role as what I believe baptism to be about.  They loved Jesus, telling others about Jesus, and totally committed to God's Word.  Me too! It was a good match.
      The Presbyterian church was a wonderful place to experience church leadership beyond youth ministry as I was also allowed significant opportunities to assist in worship and even preach several times. The leadership possibilities were endless. They even did a special Baptist style "baby dedication" service  for us after our daughter Jenna was born.  I was brave enough to step out into a different ministry context than what I was familiar with and it turned out to be the best fit for my family during those 8 years. I learned so much about church leadership styles and fell in love with Presbyterian polity. I also don't mind so much anymore about the infant baptism thing. 
     The other day I was looking on www.churchstaffing.com out of curiosity to see what positions are or are not available for women (no, I am not looking....just researching)  I did see a cool looking job at a church in the south.  My stereotype of the south, particularly this particular state, led me to believe they would never hire a woman. Even a woman with the perfect resume for the position. I was right.  After clicking on the job posting to read through, it didn't take long to see "if you are God's man for this position." For a moment my sin nature kicked in and I was thinking, "we'll your whole state is lame anyways, who would want to live there?"  As limiting as it may feel to see such postings, I am thankful to see churches not dangle unobtainable youth ministry possibilities in our faces. As a woman in youth ministry I don't think any of us female youth workers want to later discover the church intended all along to hire a man for the position. We don't want to send a resume to a church we have no hope of being hired at.  I am thankful to see it upfront.  Don't waste my time or yours. I have diapers to change, dinner to get on the table, and Bible studies to prep.
     Lastly, beyond title and pay, ask....does my church offer a place to use my gifts in a meaningful, and fulfilling way?  Is God using me here? If so stay put. The past few years I have been working full time in youth ministry back at the church I interned at through college. A large church with a giant youth ministry and Starbucks on campus. This is a thriving church where women are not Pastor's, not Elders nor allowed on stage in big church to preach or teach. Well not unless you happen to be a singer or missionary sharing a few things God has taught you on your spiritual journey.  Girls don't serve communion even. Guess what? I am ok with that. Why? Well because I am using my gifts in full time youth ministry here. I get to do all the youth ministry I can possibly dream of on a team of fun, skilled, Jesus loving youth staff. If I couldn't use my gifts here, I would be looking for a better fit elsewhere. My days are currently spent living, breathing, dreaming youth ministry while I raise a family together with my wonderful husband. I don't know how much the full time "boys" on staff get paid, but my children are not starving and my bills get paid just fine. My church takes care of me and fairly compensates me based on my job description and experience. Leadership is certainly not unobtainable, it just looks a little different on the org chart here.  Not being the youth  "pastor", but rather a female youth coordinator on staff is just fine with me, at least for now anyways. 

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