On Being a Woman in Youth Ministry
Last year I attended a youth ministry conference where the majority of speakers were male. There were opportunities for conversations with youth pastors from different regions of the country and from different denominations and backgrounds, but everyone had a shared unity in our passion for student ministry and love for the Lord.
During one session on ministry and marriage (led by a male youth pastor and his wife), I was asked by the people around me what challenges I faced as the wife of a youth pastor. I quickly corrected them that I was not the wife of a youth pastor, but was in fact the director of youth ministry at my church. We shared a “this is awkward” laugh together, but I became increasingly aware of the way people phrased their questions to me for the remainder of the conference. I began to wrestle with this over the following months, becoming discouraged over the fact that in a room full of my peers, I felt as though I did not fit in mainly because of my gender.
Shortly after the conference I was studying Ephesians, and the Lord directed me back to a familiar passage, Ephesians 4:11-16. In this last year, I have learned three valuable lessons as a woman in youth ministry based on Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus.
* It is only Christ who equips us as women in ministry.
This statement is true for men as well, but women in particular are quick to shape their identity through comparison to the strengths and weaknesses of others. Following my time away at this youth conference, I immediately wanted to “fix” the reasons I felt alienated among a male-dominated ministry vocation. I thought and prayed about more schooling, more networking, more programming, or more flannel and facial hair.
But Paul’s statement to the Ephesians in 4:11-12 is especially important, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” (emphasis added). We are equipped for ministry by where the Lord guides us and what He provides. Our inadequacies, and any measure we take to try to address them on our own, will not diminish feelings of discouragement in comparison to the lives of others in ministry. Paul is clear on what we have been equipped for: the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ — not the work of endless and exhausting comparison! If it is the Lord’s desire in our lives for more schooling, or for different programs to be a part of our student ministry, or even for more flannel, we can confidently say that we will be equipped by Him for His glory.
*We are equipped for growth in the body of Christ.
In Ephesians 4:15-16, Paul writes, “we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head … from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped … makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Because women are minorities in the ministry field, we find ourselves comparing our families, our lives and our ministries to our contemporaries. It is basic human nature. This is why I love the picture that Paul paints here of a body in which Christ is the head. This means that there is a need for shoulders, knees, and toes, ventricles, veins, and vertebrae. It is only when each part is working properly that the body grows and builds itself up in love. If there are ten youth directors in my area, and we are all wrapped up in trying to mimic each other, then we are destined to each be another shoulder or vertebrae. If Christ has equipped me to be a knee, I should not strive to be a vein, but a knee. If we strive after something for which we are not equipped, the Lord’s intent for our ministry will not be fulfilled.
When I think of a growing body, as Paul has called us to be, I think back to middle school growth spurts. As the body builds itself, we will experience some growing pains. There will be heartaches as we struggle to find the tools with which Christ has equipped us as women in ministry. However, He promises to walk through those difficult seasons with us.
*Find Christian women in your life who will remind you of these truths.
Accountability partners are valuable friends to have, whether it is in relation to a diet or a Bible reading plan. Especially as a young woman in youth ministry, I have found it very helpful to have some trusted, wiser women in my life who have been able to continually speak truth when difficult situations arise. It is easy to ask why conflicts happen in our ministry, but these close confidants can remind us that Jesus has already equipped us for the journey ahead.
Sisters, our identity is not determined by our gender, but solely by the call that Jesus places on our lives. He equips us at every step of the way.