10/21/14

I wish being a woman in Youth Ministry was no big deal



I wish that being a woman in youth ministry was no big deal. I wish it was totally normal. And for some women in youth ministry, who serve in healthy churches and ministries, it really is totally normal.  For that, I am grateful.  But that is unfortunately not the norm. The women I've spoken with from across the country, and those who have contacted me through Facebook or email are sharing with me,  that "same" and "normal" are not happening in many contexts. 

I wish men and women could take the SAME path in youth ministry. Get the same speaking gigs, same pay, same titles, same job opportunities and ride in the SAME cars to lunch meetings. In some places "SAME" and normal youth ministry is happening, regardless of gender. I celebrate that. But for everyone else,  "same" is a dream worth speaking up for. When asked to "change your week at camp" from church leadership because a female youth pastor is speaking [and that's not ok with them] or trying to find a summer camp where a female speaker IS the key note,  I have a hard time seeing how easy or normal it is for a woman to be in youth ministry.

For example, I wanted to bring in a female middle school speaker to San Diego a few years ago, and was told "we can't host that event if SHE is the speaker." I looked at the brochure of possible speakers, and it was made apparent that if this particular large church was going to host this middle school conference, we'd need to book the male speaker.  Ouch.

If you've never had any of these funky experiences, like attending a parachurch youth fundraiser banquet where everyone [unless they've met you already] assumes your husband is the youth pastor, consider yourself blessed.  You are serving in a very healthy church. I am not afraid to say that being a woman in youth ministry DOES have challenges. I am not afraid to name them, write about them, and say them out loud. I get it. There is no shortage of youth ministry to be done and God can do a lot in and through women in youth ministry, in even the most difficult of circumstances.

Difficulty sometimes prompts healthy change. I moved across the country to get the same pay, same title, and opportunity to use ALL of my gifts in youth ministry.  It's true, I could have "sucked it up" or stayed silent, or pretend everything was ok when it was not.  Some say: "be more like Jesus and embrace the injustice because suffering is for God's glory anyways." As though I was abrasive, or had to much ambition if I wanted the same speaking opportunities, equal pay and invites to the "grown up table" as my male counterparts. My pushback is this: would you say that to someone who was facing discrimination, racism, poverty, slavery, or abuse in other contexts? When is it ok to fight against injustice and when isn't it? Isn't justice worth fighting for, regardless of the severity? It's the unfairness, frustration and inequality that cause many women in youth ministry to not be able to step fully into their ministry calling and use all of their abilities, gifts, talents, etc. for God's glory.

Why speak up for gender equality? It's a desire to see more women serve God fully and from a place of wholeness that makes me an advocate for gender equality in youth ministry. I am not getting my identity from victimization or defining myself by labeling all white male pastors as abusive misogynists. Not at all.

I clothe myself in dignity and gracefully show men [and sometimes women] how their assumptions, treatment and posture towards the equality of women in youth ministry impact us. It's not bad to step into difficult and truthful conversations. We must help to create a [normal] environment where men and women can partner together with dignity, respect, and equality. Because when we do this, everyone wins and TOGETHER we work towards accomplishing God's will on earth as it is in heaven.

Now,  serving in a healthy church, being a woman in youth ministry is no big deal. Women preach from the platform, women are on the executive team, women are elders, women are paid from the same compensation scale as their male counterparts. Gender doesn't influence position, pay or opportunities.  When you are working in a healthy church, it's fun to see yourself as no big deal and as Brooklyn Lindsay writes,  Totally Normal.  My hope is for us all to serve from a place of respect, dignity and wholeness in whatever context maximizes all your giftedness for the kingdom.



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