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.”

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