Real Stories from 40 Women in Youth Work

On this International Women’s Day I’d like to pay respect, honour and gratitude to female youth workers.Lingering over from Western Christendom is a patriarchal and masculine church. This interprets theology and practice with a bent that need correcting. In many churches, we are quite happy for a woman to be a youth and children’s pastor, but even within those apparent ‘safe zones’ there are subversive and subliminal undercurrents of hostility and prejudice.

Lingering over from Western Christendom is a patriarchal and masculine church. This interprets theology and practice with a bent that need correcting. In many churches, we are quite happy for a woman to be a youth and children’s pastor, but even within those apparent ‘safe zones’ there are subversive and subliminal undercurrents of hostility and prejudice.

A month or so ago I asked forty female youth workers what particular struggles they have had in their jobs, and to share their stories.

Below is a snapshot of quotes from those interviews. These are things our sisters have experienced, and things that have been said directly to them. I’m not leaving them here to judge or pick apart, and I’m not making any theological argument or taking an overt position. I leave these here as an attitude check: Church, we must do better for our sisters!

“I can’t be a proper pastors/youth pastors wife if I don’t get my hair cut short (at my current church). Men coming up to me to say I should be helping not teaching (not in my current church)”

“My biggest struggle is establishing credibility and respect. “

“First question asked by some parents and particularly older ministers when they meet me…”Have you gone to Bible school?” or “Where did you study?” “

“Some random guy, “I bet those high school boys love THAT youth group.””

“Dad: “I’ll manage my son. Being a girl, you don’t understand what he’s dealing with””

“Ladies from church constantly introducing me to their sons or showing me pictures of them, “Don’t miss the plane!””

“Somehow young(ish) divorced church men think it’s a good idea to add me on facebook and private message me to “get to know me”.”

“For about a year, I had people tell me I needed to hurry up and find a man because, being a woman, I couldn’t relate to boys. Two years later, they told me to be more ladylike so I could relate to the girls, because I’m only good at relating to the boys (I’ve always been a tomboy). Also, there are some concerns that me wearing men’s clothing may make my girls lesbian?”

“Women don’t belong in ministry.”

“How can you be a minister AND a mom?”

“You aren’t a pastor, just a director of a program.”

“It never occurs to anyone that I might be trained and/or seminary educated.”

“Church members try to fix me up with their single sons/nephews. I also hear “she’ll never relate to boys in youth group” and “the boys only keep coming to youth group because she’s cute” in equal measure.”

“I was told recently I couldn’t speak at a youth event because there were some ministers that, if they were there, would walk out.”

“Most of my opposition has come from other women, not men. Most of my biggest supporters and people who will go to bat for me are men. A lot of the opposition comes (I think) from women’s own insecurities and struggles with pride that cause them to lash our towards us. Other women have said, “go and get a real job, be a school teacher” or “how can you be a pastor your not married” or “how can you be a pastor you’re not a mom”… the list could go on and on.”

“”how can you possibly relate to male students?” I guess in the same way male YP relate to female students.”

“Does your husband write your messages? That’s nice your husband lets you come hangout with kids.”

“”you are doing a good job, but The church would prefer a man in this role, eventually””

“The one thing I still face (even with an MDiv, even being licensed) are church members who just can’t/won’t accept my authority based only on my gender.”

“What I find fascinating is it seems to now be younger men, in their late 20’s, early 30’s more so than the older generation.”

“Finding a job. Do you know how many job descriptions have the words he/him/his? And then I have gotten responses back with one question: “Are you a man?” I have two degrees in student ministry and have volunteered for nearly 15 years in various capacities but rarely get any response.”

“I occasionally get asked when I’m going to have kids (which stings a little since my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for the past years) but other than that I am truly blessed to serve where I do.”

“I feel supported overall, but there is the feeling that I am incapable due to my gender.”

“I am the children’s minister at our church, note I am paid staff. I was told last week I wasn’t allowed to go on the staff retreat bc I was a woman…. my husband could go and “represent” me.”

“Our District Youth Director refuses to believe that I’m not the administrative assistant.”

“I have noticed the two people before me in the position were called youth “pastors” and were men; I come in and am now the youth “director.””

“I don’t think it’s been much of an issue ministry-wise–I think it’s been more of an issue when it comes to dating. Some men are not a fan of women in ministry leadership positions.”

“Biggest problem for me being told I’m so young I’m only 29. And still single but i don’t listen to what others say and focus on God and my youth kids.”

“I have had parents, (former) volunteers, and church members tell me they’re glad my husband is the teaching pastor for our HS students “because that’s how God has intended for ministry to be led.” Little do they know that’s why my husband teaches. It’s been so hard for me to teach because of that.”

“I was invited to be a lead speaker on a training tour, but then they had to ask me to step down because the hosting church was too conservative to have a woman teach.”

“To my husband (who is a police officer): “At least you’re in charge at home… right?””

“Commentary about details like: my haircut, my clothing being too pretty for preaching (it was conservative), “you’re a really solid preacher for a woman.” Then, there are the people who talk to my husband about ministry details, instead of (or in front of) me.”

“I’ve been around male leaders will come up and talk to my husband and I but literally ignore me. Won’t shake my hand, make eye contact, or acknowledge my comments.”

Tim’s Interview on ‘The Longer Haul’ – Ministering To Introverted Students

It was great to be invited to interview by Jody Livingston of ‘The Longer Haul.’ This is an epic American podcast, blog and website offering fantastic and solid advice to youth workers wanting to go all the way. Take time to check it out!

My interview was all about reaching out to introverted young people, and adapting our youth ministry models to help introverts engage.

Check out the post here.

Or check it out on itunes here.

Youthwork Around The Globe: Hungary – with Rob Trenkmann

image1-1In this new series, Youth Work Hacks interview experienced youthworkers from around the globe – starting here with Rob Trenkmann in Hungary.


  1. Where are you based?

My wife, son, and I live and serve in Western Hungary. We serve with Josiah Venture, a missionary team in Central and Eastern Europe committed to equipping young leaders to fulfill Christ’s commission through the local church.


  1. What unique challenges do you face?

One thing unique to our context is the spiritual landscape of Hungary. Hungary is formerly very religious. 90% of the country claimed to be Protestant during the Reformation, but then the country swung back to Catholicism during the counter-reformation. Now, many young people are suspicious of all religion. People often wonder if we’re part of a cult or a sect, and it’s hard for them to hear the gospel amidst all of the ‘noise’ of their distant spiritual heritage.


  1. What shape and format do your youth work projects most often take?

We focus on fruit in four key areas: evangelism, discipleship, leadership training, and healthy, reproducing churches. All of this is part of the disciple-making process. We partner with local churches for evangelistic camps, student discipleship, and both small and large group training for young leaders – all rooted in the life and model of Jesus.


  1. What do you enjoy most and what are you most proud of?

Two things: First, a couple of years ago I was part of rewriting a youth ministry training resource called Walk26 that is based on a chronological study of the life and strategy of Jesus. We’ve translated this into more than a dozen languages, and I love getting to meet with our local leaders and go through a section of this every month. It’s amazing to see the clarity and focus that a Jesus-shaped strategy brings.


Second, our teammates have done an incredible job of reaching lost people in our country. For guys, they’ve set up a church-based evangelistic soccer league that has 25-35 guys attached to it who hear the gospel every week. For girls, we have multiple unsaved girls reading the Bible on their own and coming together every week to discuss it. I’m thrilled about how the gospel is working it’s way into their hearts.


  1. What is your most valuable local resource?

At the risk of being simplistic—people! The gospel is designed to spread when the ‘Word becomes flesh.’ Anytime I see a young Hungarian leader captured by the dream and design of disciple-making, I know they will be part of changing this country for Jesus.


  1. How often do you meet up with other youth workers? How easy or difficult is that and how valuable do you find it?

We’re blessed—we’re part of an organization that has 350 workers throughout Central and Eastern Europe (half of whom are nationals) that are all focused on the next generation. We gather parts of our team twice a year—once in the fall for our annual training conference (which I lead) and once in the spring for a care and equipping conference. Those times are extremely valuable for us, and we always come away with renewed vision and excitement.


  1. Tell us a story about something significant that has happened.

I get most excited about multiplication—when students begin to make disciples of other students. The first year we were here, a young man came to our church who didn’t yet know Jesus. He came because another student invited him. He was so startled by the hope and joy he saw that he started to read the gospel of John and decided to follow Jesus. Sometime later, at a camp, he came up to me just bursting with excitement, because he had just prayed with another student to receive Christ. Now he’s often sharing Christ with others around him, including his family. I love it when students get a vision for sharing Christ with other students, and discipling them.


  1. What gets you through difficult or stressful times in your ministry?

The last four years have easily been the hardest of my life. (I’ve written about them here and here.) For one long stretch, each of us were struggling with life-altering health challenges at the same time. It tested our marriage, our family, and our faith. We’ve been tempted to give up and quit. But, we know God called us here, and he hasn’t released us from our calling. And whenever we take a day and fast and pray, He’s very faithful to remind us of our calling and give us the strength to continue. Through it, He reminds us that His work of pruning and refining is very real—and always good.