Role of women in youth ministry?

I recently returned from my denominational district annual conference.

Our particular denomination does not affirm the equality of women in leadership.  Women are relegated to certain roles, but cannot hold “elder” responsibilities of teaching, leading, or preaching.

Denominational leaders choose to use a very few selected verses such 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 as the basis for their position.

While publicly this policy would appear to only affect churches who would like to have female lead pastors or women who are clearly called into vocational ministry, I witnessed how these views trickle down and can impact youth ministry.

At our conference, we had a youth leader luncheon.  Approximately 20-25 youth workers were present and not a single female.

I wonder why?

Though technically, and I suppose “legally” women can serve as youth pastors (although they would have to be called “Directors” I believe) it is clear that our denomination and a few others like it simply do not equate the call, giftedness, and spiritual authority of women the same as men.
Some Christian colleges affiliated with these denominations struggle as to why the enrollment of females into ministry departments continues to decrease.

Really?

Oh, I don’t know..perhaps its because they will not be able to find a job in ministry within that denomination, or if they are lucky enough to get a position they know and feel that they will not be treated as equal.

And we wonder why so many gifted women are flocking to other denominations or using their gifts and talents in the “secular” world instead.

When it comes to youth ministry, I feel that many youth programs are severely hurting due to a lack of women in leadership.

If a youth pastor can rally enough female support from volunteers (which is a good thing) and/or if his wife happens to have time and passion to work with the girls in the group, then it may work out.

But ,to be honest, how many vocational women have the time to really invest in the girls of their church’s youth ministry?

Additionally, though these female volunteers may be great, is there more benefit from having a trained, called, and passionate female in that role?

My wife is great working with our high school girls.  She pours what little extra time or energy she has after long work days investing in these teenagers.

I would say my wife has a sense of purpose and “calling” for these specific girls.  She loves them sincerely and intentionally.

But if you were to ask her if she feels “called” to youth ministry, the answer would be no.

The truth is that she is involved now because of me.  If and when my calling and career changes, I would imagine hers would as well.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think she would continue to volunteer her time working with teenage girls.

Now, you may have wonderful volunteer female leaders who are truly “called” in life-long youth ministry.

However, how much time do they actually have to invest in the lives of these teens?  To what extent are they able to pour their very lives into these students?  What if they are college students helping out, have a full-time job, or have their own family to take care of?

And if you happen to have many women actively involved in leadership, let me aske you a question….could you spare a few?  Really, send them my way!

It’s a no-brainer to realize that females add a different, necessary, and often overlooked dimension to the ministry and leadership of a youth program.

They think of things that most guys would never think of.  In my experience, women bring a sense of compassion, wisdom, and spiritual fervor often unparalleled with men.  We tend to be goal-oriented and agenda focussed.  Women have an uncanny ability for building intentional relationships and investing themselves in conversations.  Not to mention the giftedness so many of them have whether in teaching, vision casting, administration, counseling, etc….

I make no alterations in my affirming of women in leadership and a women’s equal role in ministry.  I have attached a great thesis from prominent scholar N.T Wright on some hermeneutical, theological, and contextual interpretations on this subject.

N.T Wright_Women in Church

But let me  come back to the original intent (and title) of the blog.

I realize there are many denominations, churches, and youth programs out there who have women in lead roles.  Good for you.  We have a great group of girls and young women in our youth group that I hope and pray that one day many will be serving in a local church in a full leadership capacity.  If I ever have a daughter, my prayer is for her to have that freedom and affirmation as well.

For those of you who know of, or are a part of a youth group with female “youth pastors” let me ask you a few questions that I would love to get feedback on.

Do women in youth ministry easily fit into traditional roles and job descriptions such  “high school youth pastor” or “junior high youth pastor”

Do churches need to create unique roles to fit the personality, calling, and giftetndess of women?  Examples could be, but certainly not limited to:

Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Worship Pastor/Director

Pastor of Discipleship (a.k.a girls ministry)

Director of Outreach or Mission

Please respond to the questions below and provide as much or as little info as you would like

1)  What exactly is your role and title?

2) How do you perceive yourself to be viewed by the students and/or community?  *Especially if you are working with a male youth pastor

P.S

Our church has a woman in leadership.  She is tremendously gifted and called and our local church community affirms her calling.  And yes, we call her “Pastor”

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17 thoughts on “Role of women in youth ministry?

  1. perhaps a question to ask first is, are you trying to “fit” women into a job? My understanding here is there is a stigma significantly (and dangerously) attached to youth ministry. It suggests a set of ‘gifts’ that are, in communities which uphold specific gender roles, more male like.

    which, might I add, always flumoxed me. if my 7+ years of theological education and 5 years of youth ministry in tandem w/ my female identity taught me anything, I always understood “women” to be tied to the more natural ‘nurturering’ types. (not to say I agree w/ this idea at all, but as I said, stigmatized.) and don’t adolescent girls and boys need nurturing types in their lives?

    no intention of oversimplifying the situation, but it seems to me that to understand why women aren’t equally represented in the youth ministry circles, it begs the question of how gender roles have determined task lists in the profession. while i certainly know a lot of fun, creative, crazy women, not every woman (or man) is the crazy, disorganized, guitar-playing pastor type. somehow it’s more acceptable to not be the norm as a man, but as a woman, I certainly experienced it not being acceptable by the church leaders that a woman was heading what was perceived as the ‘crazier’ ministry.

    I can’t count the number of kids I’m still in touch with 4+ years after leaving full-time vocational ministry. and by the way, the percentage is higher male than female. it has nothing to do with whom I connected with by gender, but i would suggest more in relation to my genuine connections. and both men and women can do that well. it just takes some intention.

    • Thank you so much for your insights. I appreciate your passion and commitment to students.
      I agree with your notion about gender roles and its relationship with women in ministry.
      perhaps the traditional views of what youth ministry is needs to change as well?

  2. I serve in multiple roles at my interdenominational church. I am a Children’s Chapel teacher for Pre-K, a Deacon(ess?) elected by the church body and I also work with our youth. Our format is to teach the combined Jr Sr high students and then break them up in small groups. I teach on a rotating basis and usually take the Jr High student small group.

    Our Youth Pastor is not biased in anyway against women and neither is our Sr. Pastor. A few years back we had a female Youth Pastor, and some families left the church because of her placement. She served faithfully for 4 years but her husband got a job out of state and she had to move. At that particular time in our church, Pastor Donna was the only one who could heal the group from deep hurts that were a result of a sudden death of a student and poor boundaries from the previous pastor because she had known all of the youth since they were little kids.

    I am not a college student or young adult. I am almost 50 years old, married, work full time and have a teenage daughter who has struggled with self harm and thoughts of suicide. it is because of faithful prayer from the saints in our body that my marriage is still intact, and that my daughter seems to be coming out of her dark night of the soul. I have a heart to love our youth into God’s arms.

    Sorry this is so long.

    Thanks for the post!

    In Christ,

    Patti

    • your comment is perfect. thank you for sharing a part of your story and heart with us. I am happy and encouraged to learn of your situation and context.

  3. I happen to be a female youth director (though I think of myself as a pastor, even if I am not technically ordained) And I definitely don’t fit the typical mold of what a youth pastor is. Can’t play the guitar and I am terrible at any type of sport. But I serve in a church that has welcomed me with open arms and allows me to use my gifts.

    I am currently at a PCUSA church, and they are open to women in ministry in general. But I didn’t originally see myself in this type of church. I grew up Baptist, went to a Baptist Seminary, interned at a Baptist Church for 3 years. I was fortunate to be mentored by a woman who has been youth ministry 25 years and was the ym professor at my school. But she told me early on to be open denominationally. I found out pretty quick she was right. I can’t say for sure why certain churches past me over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had to do with being a woman.

    As for people not fitting the traditional stereotype of what a youth pastor is, not just women struggle with this. But I think there has been many changes in the past few years and there is a broader definition of what ym is.

    Oh, and I have 3 female volunteers, and they are all INCREDIBLE!!!

  4. Dan,

    I appreciate your comments and in many aspects you are correct. The idea of male pastors/elders only does effect women in youth ministry in those particular denominations.

    However, this is probably the worst treatment of the issue I have ever read. You were completely unfair with the opposing view and very condescending with your “By the way, I thought this issue was sort of over, but apparently segments of Christianity and church have not yet caught up with society and our government.” This isn’t a society or government issue but a Biblical Theology issue, which overrules society and government preferences.

    I know you did not intend this blog to be an argument for or against male eldership, but you didn’t do any justice to the opinion you are against. It is much deeper than 1 Corinthians, which it sounds like your denomination didn’t treat very well, although you didn’t prove that they misused it.

    I respect N.T. Wright on many levels and he is great on many of those levels, but throwing an article out there is not fair to the issue.

    I am not intending to convince you of another viewpoint as I am not 100% convinced of either side, but before you start throwing rocks, please present both sides with care and I would encourage you to talk over this issue with those in your denominations leadership. I had to do this same thing with my ordination. The board I was in front of disagreed with me and so afterward I went to a few of them and asked why they feel they can come down on a different side. It was a great and edifying conversation.

    I love you Dan and everything you are doing. You are very gifted with youth and are doing great things, but I am concerned with the root thinking of what caused this Blog. I may be wrong on my thoughts and time and the Holy Spirit’s illumination will lead me there, but this is far from a set issue. Sorry if this is harsh, please rebuke me if it is so.

    • MIke
      As always i appreciate your comments, thoughts, and personal feelings on this and any issue. thanks for sharing your thoughts and appreciate your passion for student ministry
      I was actually just voted to serve a 2-year term on our denomination’s leadership/governing board and certainly plan to discuss (among many) this issue, as I have pondered, thought, reflected, read, studied, and pray about this for around 5 years.

  5. First of all, thank you for this post. Thank you for being a male who recognizes the reality of some denomination’s view of women and the way it will affect future generations of girls who grow up. The way that YOU treat them, encourage them, and help them grow will greatly influence them, regardless of what the denomination as a whole tells them. Kudos!!!! Seriously.

    Now, for your questions:

    1) What exactly is your role and title?
    I’m the Minister of Student Faith Formation for a joint student ministry, in relationship with a few different churches. My role is to work with our faith formation team [there are 2 other people in the team with me: a children’s ministry person and an overall/all ages overseer who is mostly hands-on in the student ministries with me] to vision and lead all the faith formation ministries of the churches.

    2) How do you perceive yourself to be viewed by the students and/or community? *Especially if you are working with a male youth pastor

    The Minister of Faith Formation is indeed a male, and I technically work “for” him in a hierarchical sense, but only because he’s been in youth ministry for 25 years and I’m relatively green. I came to work here a little over a year ago, and the more time I work here, the flatter the hierarchies become. I feel as if I am treated as an equal, not only by him, but by the pastors and other staff that I work with.

    The only areas I’ve felt pushback or as if people didn’t know what to do with me:
    *The senior class boys last year when I came on staff. They’d never had a female in leadership over them in this youth group, and I could tell they didn’t know what to do with it. The other kids are just fine with me.
    *Some of the parents of the younger children I work with… but I think their issues come more from my young age than the fact that I’m female.

    “Church” is an interesting thing to be a female in. I was raised in a conservative, evangelical home and church where women are subservient to men. It’s been an interesting journey through [and out of!] that world and into a little more freedom.

    The biggest barriers are the ones that I perceived myself… the ones in my own mind. Walking into a free church from being ingrained that femininity is deficient and perhaps even sinful was hard, but only because I had junk to work through. It’s been an beautiful process. 🙂

  6. I serve as Director of Youth Ministry (PCUSA) and can’t be officially called pastor. i grew up Church of God, did my BA at Vanguard University (Assemblies), worked for a nondenom church and have been at my current Presby job 7 years. Though called a director, I am seen as a minister in every sense of the word, completely respected and trusted, and valued as a women. I have surrounded myself with great lay leadership of both genders (and intentionally put some key males around me to do what I cannot; my counselor hubby is a super volunteer). Though the female vocational pastor issue has been a hard thing for me in the past, my current church is outstanding. I have never felt “less than”. And the girls in our congregation grow up feeling valued equally with our boys. it’s one of those places in our church where Kingdom life is obvious; yet often not even noticed since gender is just a non-issue here. Having lived the alternative and spent years second-guessing my calling I feel pretty lucky to do what I was made to do and be appreciated for doing it well.

    • Jamie
      thanks for sharing part of your journey. glad to hear story after story of churches supporting your role and that you feel” respected, trusted, and value”…as you should.

  7. I am a youth pastor (Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry) at a large PC(USA) church in Chicago. I have a woman working with me in our youth ministry. She has a seminary education and years of youth ministry experience. We are truly partners in this ministry, though I am technically her supervisor. She is not called a pastor simply because she is not ordained (her choice, not because the church wouldn’t support her). She fits into every possible youth ministry role you can conceive of. I am the pastor that oversees our youth ministry, but she has been fully accepted by our youth and families as a ministry leader.

    I don’t think there is any need to create female-specific youth ministry roles for women, any more than there should be male-specific roles for me. At the same time, when we were hiring for this position I was keen on filling it with a woman because I think it is important to have gender balance in our youth ministry leadership. There are connections she will make that I can’t and vice versa. And, since we are a denomination that values and fully credentials women in church leadership, I’m glad that our girls have her as a role model.

    One other thought: when I was called as the pastor for youth at this church, it was just as likely that a woman could have been called. In fact, the other finalist for this job was in fact a female pastor.

    • great comment. thank you John and blessings on your ministry. so glad to hear of supportive churches and youth groups out there

  8. I am a 28 year old female YOUTH PASTOR, paid, licensed, full time, and entrenched in every part of the word Pastor. I serve at an Assemblies of God Church in Baltimore, MD, studied at Valley Forge Christian College, an Assemblies of God College. And I would say that my denomination does its very best to treat me the same as any person in my position, regardless of gender.

    But this is definitely a societal shift. What I have found is that even with the best efforts of my denomination and leadership, I am almost alone in my field. At a convention of over 100 churches, there may be 6-7 female pastors and of those, probably only 1 (me) paid, full-time. What’s worse is it’s next to impossible for me to find a mentor… someone in my position, who’s female, who knows the struggle of being a mom and a youth pastor and a wife and an office staff member. Because 20 years ago, there were even less “me’s” out there.

    Despite the greatest efforts of a very inclusive denomination (inclusive within the theology of the Bible, I might add), there are still few youth pastors like me. I dont feel less than any of my male counterparts, but I feel disconnected. I know I’m “as good as them,” and as “valued” as them… but the hard truth is I just am not as connected to the “big boys” at the district office or the big name preachers or even the local boys club of pastors that meet for lunch once a month. They dont exclude me on purpose, but we have less in common than most.

    But even though its hard and often lonely… I am encouraged. Three teenage girls in my ministry are now studying at a Christian College to be a youth pastor. God is going to continue to raise up women in ministry… and not to prove a point, but because He uses who He wills. And there are some pretty awesome ladies in the world!

    • Meghan
      thanks so much for your response and for sharing your story. many feel disconnected as well. we are hoping the tide will change, so hang in there and be encouraged

  9. I am the Youth Minister at a small church in Southern Missouri, and we are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (shocker, right?). I am the only female in my area that is a youth minister, and I’ve only been in the ministry for 5 months. I was called three and a half years ago in high school; since I’ve interned at a mega-church, and volunteered in my many capacities in other churches. I feel like I’m everything that ISN’T the typical youth minister: female, young, not athletic by any means, unmarried, etc. My church FULLY supports me as a female in the ministry, and I’m the only female minister on staff. I’m only part-time, as I’m still in college and it’s a small church. But I get treated wonderfully. We’ve had families visit that seemed very surprised that this church’s youth minister is a single woman, and perhaps didn’t return because of the fact. I believe that being a woman has its advantages and disadvantages, but what is most discouraging isn’t sexist men, but the lack of women role models.

    About my “title”: My job description says “Youth Minister”, yet some call me “director”, but never am I called “pastor” by those within my church. I am not ordained, so that is expected. Plus our male music minister isn’t even called “pastor”. Also, I know (and God knows, and the students know, and their families know, and the pastor knows) what I do for the church. I don’t need a fancy title to define that for me 🙂

    Thanks for your post, by the way. I love this blog, and I love networking with other “youth guys”, as my advisor calls them. My prayer is the the Church can see the value of both youth guys and youth gals in leadership.

  10. Hi.

    This is a really useful post. Thanks for your insight! I feel that missing the Biblical differences between genders is playing a serious role in the difficulties we’re experiencing in the western Church. The impact this has on youth ministry will inform the growth and maturity of the church for years to come.

    I think there is Biblical warrant for Women in certain roles of pastoral leadership, particularly in family orientated ministry – including youth and children. However I have difficulty allowing a Woman to be in a potion of total pastoral leadership *regularly* and *consistently* from my reading of the Bible.

    That said the fallenness of our world calls us to do the best we can in the situations we are in, and this sometimes means adopting the ‘non-ideal.’ This allows God to move through our weakness and make His glory more apparent when He changes the world through us.

    Thanks again.

    Tim

  11. Pingback: Poll time: Women in Ministry? « Emerging youth's Weblog

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