“I think I want to be a Youth Pastor,” my 17-year-old self said to my parents as we were driving home from visiting family.
My parents were quiet a moment and said, “That’s great. You just need to be aware that being in ministry is very difficult for a woman.”
My Journey into Youth Ministry
They weren’t trying to be kill-joys with my dream. They were in fact, trying to make me aware of just how hard ministry is, let alone ministry as a woman. And I’ll admit that at the time I said this, all I knew of youth pastors was that they were cool, which I was not in school, and so what better way to be cool than to be a youth pastor? That meant I could someday hang out with the cool high school kids.
Really spiritual reasoning, I know. What’s worse is I didn’t even do any research to find out if there were colleges that offered Youth Ministry as a major. I hated filling out college applications (seriously though…who writes those things!?). So I filled out a grand total of one application, sent it in and thankfully got accepted.
In an attempt to be in something at least geared toward youth ministry, I took an intro class in social work and HATED IT! With. A. Passion.
Now even though everything in this adventure so far had been devoid of God on my part, He in fact, was not. I truly believe it was a God-thing when I just “happened” my freshman year to ride to church in a car where the driver was a woman in the youth ministry program. I didn’t even know that was a major being offered at my college. Did I mention I did ZERO research?
Within two days I had switched my major…without even praying about it. A Spirit-led-thing this was not. Like I said…God was a bit lacking (on my part) as I stumbled into my career.
Ignore the “Woman in Ministry” Nay-sayers
But again, God knew what He was doing. The one college I applied for “happened” to have a Youth Ministry major. Many colleges do not offer it at all or only a minor (At the time at least. I am not owing up to my age!). While there, I had a phenomenal professor who was also my advisor. He strongly encouraged me in my pursuit of youth ministry and told me to ignore the “woman in ministry” nay-sayers. He saw a fire for youth ministry in me that even I didn’t fully realize till years later. This had God written all over it even if I didn’t see this.
And God knew that eventually I would come to love engaging students in conversations about Him and seeing light-bulbs go on when they got it. He knew I would be in tears at many a Profession of Faith. He knew I would find immense pleasure when kids would ask deep questions that would stump me and that there would be moments where I would be the one who learned things from my students. He knew that as a woman, I could do all this and more.
Speed Bumps Along the Way
But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t hit speed bumps along the way because of the very fact that I am a woman. When I was hired, the title changed from Youth Pastor to Youth Director because of my gender. To be honest that one never bothered me. It was all part of the “gender package” I figured.
But there were other things along the way as well. For example, I have been told by someone outside my church that Scripture is clear that a woman should not teach teen boys – that is a man’s job.
One of the questions asked of me in my interview process was how I was going to relate to the boys. In both situations I remember thinking, “What about your concern for the girls? The last two youth pastors were men. I wonder if the same question, in relation girls, was directed at them?”
I asked another woman in ministry what her experience has been and she said this:
“It’s easy to be overlooked as a woman in ministry. It really is a man’s world in some cases. Unfortunately sometimes men just don’t think to include us in decision making or adequately value our heart and contribution to ministry. God created us to complement one another and work together to benefit His kingdom. He has gifted all of us, men and women alike, and I think it grieves the heart of God when the church underutilizes and undervalues the role of His beloved daughters.”
The Need for Women in Youth Ministry
Back in college already I was very aware and had a pretty good grasp on the fact that being a woman in ministry was going to be hard. For the most part, I have let that stuff roll because I know that is reality. And the reality is that even though my church changed the title, they also didn’t let the fact of my being a woman stop them from hiring me. I got the job.
Add to this the fact that the longer I have been at my church, the more people have come to trust me that I CAN do this job. However, I believe my greatest contributor to the issue of being a capable woman in ministry, is my obvious love for what I do and for my desire that teens know, love and follow God.
Being a woman in ministry isn’t an easy road to travel. I won’t claim that it is. It’s lonely. It’s exhausting. And it gets wearisome feeling like one must prove themselves over and over again. But the greater fact is that there is a need there. There is an opportunity there. And there IS a place for women in youth ministry.
Sarah Vanderaa is currently serving as a full-time youth director in a church located in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is close to wrapping up her tenth year there and is excited to see what year eleven will bring. On her rest days, she can often be found behind a computer writing and updating her blog, while drinking lots and lots of coffee. In between naps, she still finds time to read novels. You can connect with Sarah through her blog at WWW.UNLOCKANDRELEASE.TUMBLR.COM or her Facebook page @UNLOCKANDRELEASE.