5/3/13

A paid female youth worker in an SBC church?

     Without going into a theological debate on whether or not women should be considered pastors, or serve as youth pastors, I wanted to share how I thrived as a woman in youth ministry in an SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) environment. Again, I don't care to argue whether or not women can be titled or ordained as pastors. What's the point...? I doubt I will change your interpretation of scripture and you are unlikely to change mine! Instead of lengthy debate, we can save time and effort and go serve the homeless together and do something much more productive. There are other blogs and countless books on the subject. One of my favorite's is this one and this one, however the official SBC position on females in pastoral leadership is this. For those considering youth ministry who, like myself, have a love and affinity for the Southern Baptist denomination  (I went to a Baptist Bible College), and have wondered how to use your gifts in a traditionally male led faith tradition, I wanted to share my experience.


     First, to work in an SBC church as a female youth worker, you can't care about the title. Now 15 years post Bible College, I do see how the title of "Pastor" sometimes changes the way I am treated and the way I am paid, but up until this point in my life, it wasn't (and usually isn't!) a deal breaker for me. I wanted the freedom and the opportunity to do youth ministry, title was irrelevant. So I was an "intern" and a "director" and a "coordinator" for years. I got paid to do youth ministry, even if I wasn't the "man" in charge. There was plenty of ministry to get done, and I didn't have to be the one running the show.  It wasn't until I started rubbing shoulders with Presbyterian female pastors and the opportunities (like 10k more a year in pay, study leave, and a generous pension plan!) available to them in their denomination, which led me to 8 of the best years of my life as a youth worker in the Presbyterian Church! So evaluate how important a title and top level pay are to you. As a married woman, my husband is the primary bread winner, so me getting paid as much as the "Pastor" boys on staff wasn't a deal breaker. Plus, being second in command, means the guy pastor gets more of the stress on his plate, and I get to do more hands on ministry.  However, if I was single, or the primary bread winner in the family, it would matter a whole lot more.

     Eventually I left the Presby's to work back at my SBC home church just east of San Diego. I love the Presbyterian church, and sometimes regret I didn't go down the ordination path there. After being allowed to guest preach on several occasions at Westminster Presbyterian church (PCUSA) in Escondido, Ca congregants would shake my hand at the door and ask why I was not pursuing ordination. They affirmed my calling to the pulpit, but my SBC background haunted or at the very least, confused me! I didn't want to get shot down by lightening or anything. Preaching is a gift I was given, and unfortunately there are not a lot of opportunities for women to guest preach in most SBC churches. So why head back there? When a full time youth ministry position opened up at my home church (a conservative Baptist one) I jumped at the chance. It's a fabulous church, doing great things in the community and world wide.

     When you come from a Southern Baptist church you know what you are in for. I knew the context, I knew their view on women as pastors, and I knew I would never get the chance to preach on a Sunday to adults. Despite the challenges, the opportunity was amazing! Only one thing mattered...I was getting paid to do more youth ministry than I could ever dream possible. I mentored female youth interns on staff in our middle school department, led after school campus clubs, organized 13 middle school small groups and even taught on Sundays occasionally (females can teach students....once in awhile!)  I was the second in command "middle school coordinator" working with the male middle school pastor and it was the perfect job. Large SBC churches with a good sized youth ministry, are well aware of needing women on staff to minister to teenage girls and female volunteers. So you gotta knock on some doors of those bigger churches and seek an internship or a volunteer slot to get your foot in the door.

     I share my story of working in an SBC church, to encourage other women out there who share a love for their local SBC church, and wonder if a career there in youth ministry is possible. It is! I loved being an intern at a big Baptist church back when I was a college student, and I was so blessed to return there full time in my 30's to do full time youth ministry.  It's in this SBC church where I began paid youth ministry, met my husband, got married and it's what made every ministry position since then possible. You don't have to abandon ship to another denomination if you don't want to. Yet again, it isn't a bad thing to consider a change to a more female friendly denomination. I have a great love and passion for Presbyterians because I wasn't afraid to venture outside of my own faith tradition. If anything, I am more Presbyterian now than I am Baptist! There are plenty of Jesus and Bible loving churches out there, both within and outside of the SBC who would love to hire quality youth workers, regardless of gender. I am proof of that!

Sidenote: I live and minister in Southern California...NOT the Bible Belt, NOT the Midwest.  NOT the South.  Your context might look different than mine based on the cultural norms of your community.  California seems (in my opinion) to be more progressive than other states. Feel free to email me if you have questions or need advice specific to your context.
"When I grow up I want to be a Youth Pastor" 


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