I am a female youth pastor.

First off...if you haven't read this and this you need to! It got me fired up and is the reason why I am sharing these stories with you. I get so many emails and private Facebook messages from women all of the time who are struggling as women in youth ministry. Wondering why they often feel like an undervalued minority. Wondering if any church will hire them, why their pay sucks,  and why they don't know more women in youth ministry [there are lots of #ymwomen I promise!].  These struggles are not true everywhere, but all too often they are. The proof is in my email inbox.

Leading well as a woman in youth ministry can feel unnatural sometimes. Especially when it's something you may not be used to seeing [let's change that, ok?] or never allowed to do.
Many [but not all] women lack the tools, training, and support to lead comfortably in settings where men typically lead. Especially if you made the mistake of going to a Bible College where what was taught turned out to me more damaging than empowering. I've finally recovered from those "Left Behind" days.  No one told me I had signed up for the "Concerned Women For America" college! Seminary at Azusa Pacific University, 8 years of working with Presbyterians, and Scot McKnight's Blue Parakeet helped me in the recovery process.  My bff is a Presbyterian Pastor too. She doesn't have the "Baptist" baggage that I do. It's nice to see what healthy looks like.

I remember sitting in the auditorium of our previous and long time church home. A big Southern Baptist church.  There was this tall, blond, beautiful, and skilled female musician who would come in and sing as a musical guest a few times a year. Everyone LOVED her.  In between songs she would talk...or share...or in my mind "preach."  I sat there feeling a little ticked because I have ZERO musical skills and if I ever wanted to "share" or "teach" or "preach" I would have to take vocal lessons, be invited as a guest musician and sneak my sermon in between songs. It was depressing. I can't sing. I am not tall, blond, or musical. So there was no hope. My gifts had serious limitations placed on them.

Then it was time for summer camp. I recall sitting on a church bus a few summers back as we were driving 2 big school buses up to summer camp. 80 students came with us. 60 are girls. 20 are boys. Then I started to think back to our fall Six Flags Magic Mountain trip. 2 bus loads of kids again. 80% of the students on the trip are female. 20% male. I started to think about it a little longer. The male youth pastor, with a really small percentage of male students in the youth ministry gets paid approximately 80k.  The female [they don't call her a pastor because she is a girl] gets 40k-ish.  It was Southern California…with a high cost of living and slightly larger paychecks.  Do the math. This doesn't seem very “complementary" to me when both jobs (his and hers) were essentially the same. Same education, same years of experience, and only 1 year difference in "tenure." Both receiving a "pastoral" housing allowance. It was time to rethink my theology of women in ministry.  Time to rethink a lot of things. 

Now I am at Mars Hill. I am doing youth ministry in a place committed to gender equality. Even here, I have to step up and lean into the people, places, and opportunities allowing me to lead and to lead well. To take initiative. For instance, this past week we had a staff Thanksgiving lunch. As staff began to arrive, and before we sat down at tables to eat, everyone stood closest to the people they were most familiar and comfortable with. I noticed all the female staff were standing on one side of the room (in a church which champions equality!) chatting and all the men on the other.  Almost as though an invisible line existed between us. I joked “hey this isn’t middle school” and walked over to the “guys” side of the room and engaged in conversation with them. I had to be intentional and I had to leave my “introvert bubble” to purposefully embrace the equality available to me. I was not going to wimp out and stay in familiar territory. I moved to Michigan for goodness sakes! Why hide out now?

We sat down to eat.  Men together with women. Executive staff mingled and ate with lower level staff. No divas. No bodyguards.  For the first time in a long time I shared a meal with the teaching pastor and higher ups of a pretty big church.  It was natural. It was normal.  It was fun. We joined together as brothers and sisters. It gave me hope. Hope that all churches can move forward in equality not only when it comes to gender, but also when it comes to position. You may be the "face" of the church and write the books,  but we are all on the same team together. Moving forward into something beautiful. Something better than before.

Need more training, help, support and can't afford therapy? Check out April's cohort here! 


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