Tis the season where we start thinking a bit more than other months about how we want to make the most of the year ahead of us. How do you want to grow? What new habits do you want to form? What questions have been haunting you for far too long? What do you want to accomplish this year?
Every now and then you need someone outside your daily world to look at your life and ministry with fresh eyes. Sometimes you feel stuck in your current reality, other times there’s a problem you aren’t sure how to navigate. Sometimes you are wondering what’s your next step forward. Other times you’re experiencing a ceiling that you’re not sure how to break through.
I grew up in a faith tradition that didn’t have a model for a woman with leadership and teaching gifts. The roles available for women revolved around the kitchen and the home. In the church, women could display leadership by organizing potlocks and teaching children until they reached puberty. From an early age, I absorbed what would be my future.
Until God surprisingly called me into youth ministry when I was 16 years old.
There was zero framework for that calling. That didn’t happen where I came from. And it didn’t fit anywhere in my experience, or what I saw other women doing in their lives.
By the grace of God, my parents and others began affirming my calling and I was swept into pursuing that calling. The first stop of my training began at Willow Creek Community Church.
I was 18 years old.
In those formative early days of leadership, my first boss in the church was a woman, who’s since become one of my dearest friends. I also watched two Nancy’s use their gifts to lead teams and ministries, teach on Sunday mornings (gasp!), serve on the management team and elder board. It was revolutionary to me.
Nancy Beach is one of those Nancy’s.
Nancy’s been a pioneer in her generation and mine. She was a founding leader at Willow Creek. She created and lead an arts team that revolutionized creativity in the church. People weren’t using drama and so many other creative mediums before Nancy did. She was invited to teach at churches and conferences all over the world on matters of creativity and leadership. She’s been one of the key women on the forefront in the evangelical church for three decades. That’s a long time to pioneer something.
For nearly 20 years, I’ve watched Nancy from a distance. I was astounded to see a woman – a mom even – providing such significant and important public service in the church. I couldn’t believe the anointing she carried when she preached on Sunday morning (and not just on Mother’s Day!). It rattled my thinking to know her voice actually influenced Bill Hybels, the senior pastor. I remember her carrying a critical role in the church as they set out to raise a bazillion dollars. I stood in awe when I saw her year after year pastor a Global Leadership Summit with tens of thousands of leaders. I remember her speaking at staff meetings, giving pastoral care to a staff of over 500 men and women.
I remember Nancy’s voice in my life as a young woman when she told me that my leadership and teaching mattered. It changed me. She showed me what was possible when the Holy Spirit intentionally gives you a gift.
In the past couple years, Nancy has provide a much more up close and personal role in my life. I count her among my wise counsel and I love her deeply. She’s provided perspective, wisdom, care, intimate personal experience, hope, challenge, and better skills for me in challenging leadership and personal seasons. She’s been quick to say “yes” to my request for a quick phone call or Skype conversation. She’s been generous with me in every way.
She’s shown and taught me to stay the course as a woman in leadership, even when it’s so.very.hard.
Yet with all of Nancy’s investment and influence – and hundreds running along beside her – there’s still a gap in the church. She so articulately laments,
Women church leaders tell me stories of small ways, and larger ways, in which they have felt overlooked, excluded, diminished, unfairly compensated, and misunderstood. There are also many stories of churches where the opposite is true, where women feel valued and empowered. Yet most female leaders who cross my path feel somewhat alone in their journey, and are occasionally or often tempted to just give up, bury their gifts, and quiet their voice.
This is why the Women in Youth Ministry Campference is so important. We need each other as we journey through these challenges. We need to be reminded we aren’t alone. We need our gifts to be emboldened so the church becomes all she must be. And we need to get better, stronger, smarter, more soulful as we faithfully lead and teach in our churches.
And this is why I’m beyond thrilled Nancy agreed to speak at WYMC this Spring. She was quick to say “yes” to coming and speaking and coaching to this next generation of female leaders and teachers. She’s so deeply committed to pouring her life into ours and this is just one of the ways she’s living it out.
What a gift to have Nancy with us. I know you’ll soak up all she has to offer. I hope to see you there.
Waiting. No one likes waiting. Maybe least of all me. I’ve waited for my entire life to see your Church reflect your heart to see men and women lead your people. Equally. With skillful hands and integrity of heart [Psalm 78:72]. I’ve waited for your Church to wake up and get it that we have as much to contribute to the Kingdom as men do! I wish your Word was painfully clear about our contribution equality!
Too many times I’ve seen women in the pit of despair because they have not been allowed to use their voice, their gifts, their experiences, their very calling to build the Kingdom. You have not stopped them from leading and teaching, Lord; your people have.
My sisters and I have cried when we’ve been told “no”, “be quiet”, “this is not your place”. We need your rescue, God. We desperately need you to bring good news in places where we are pushed down, snuffed out, and negotiated around. Your Kingdom suffers when we are relegated to roles and ministries and places where we are not gifted or passionate. How long?
Our circumstances may not change, our culture may never fully reflect your heart for your Church, but you never change. You are solid and steady and trustworthy. When your Church may fail me, I can still be amazed by who you are. I will find my hope in who you are, not in an outcome – a promotion or a platform or power. I will receive a new song that you give me and sing to the rooftops of who you are and what you’ve done. I will serve you fully and contribute my best to your Kingdom, even in the midst of broken systems and unjust theology. Give me the courage I need to be faithful today.
How long will we sing this song? When I grieve for what your Church is not yet, I must remember that you are a God of justice and have called ordinary people like me to bring justice on earth as it is in heaven [Matthew 5:10]. Help me not be afraid to speak out and speak for those who do not have a voice.
You have written your calling upon my heart and I will not forsake you. I will take joy in following you no matter what anyone else says. Help me listen to you more and more and follow you obediently. Thank you for my calling, even if it’s not honored among others.
Ready to gather with fellow women in youth ministry? Join us for the first ever Women in Youth Ministry Campference. Learn more here
Last year, our church was presented a great opportunity. Our youth pastor was transitioning into another role at our church and we were charged with re-imagining what youth ministry could look like in our context. The charge was daunting and exhilarating.
I firmly believe that any transition is an opening to re-envision what we are currently doing and how we might want to approach things differently. However, this is a scary process because it begs identification of sacred cows, failures, inherent dysfunctions, and will require a longer transition from the old to the new. This is messy and time-consuming…and so freeing! This re-envisioning process also opens up the possibilities to recalibrate to even greater Kingdom impact and influence. We opted for the messy, long-way-round and it uncovered an entirely new thing for us.
The process began with an urging from my boss, the lead pastor of our church, to present a “Future of Youth Ministries” proposal. After consulting with a few youth ministry gurus I respected that know me and our church [including Marko!], we put a plan into motion. We compiled a proposal which included: youth ministry realities in our context, our current reality overview, an assessment of the past 5 years of ministry, assessment of annual programs and events [including past events we’ve quit], future values and structure proposal, and a proposed practical future. Over the course of several weeks, I put together this 8-page document in partnership with our transitioning youth pastor. It was complete with statistics, graphs, bullet point evaluations, and concise vision for our future. Was it time consuming? Absolutely! Was it a great use of time? Beyond a doubt!
This systematic yet creative process led us down a road and presented ideas that I never would have imagined if I simply tweaked our youth pastor job description. In the end, we determined, we could not hire another youth pastor.
We had to hire a Student Integration Pastor.
After Marko heard our new position title and read through the job description, he merely posted the title of the job on his Facebook status and in a matter of hours, his Facebook was lit up with excitement, skepticism, and curiosity. The intrigue quietly stoked my fire that, in fact, the Holy Spirit was on to something with us in this newly envisioned role.
One of the first dogmatic statements we made to our church staff and in the hiring process was that we were NOT hiring a youth pastor. That job title came with very clear ideas of what this person would do and not do. We needed to re-envision our community toward what this person would be responsible for and the vision of our church toward youth. We were asking our Student Integration Pastor to do a new thing.
What was our guiding philosophy for a Student Integration Pastor?
- They had to be a 3rd culture person, having the “mindset and will to love, learn, and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort”. This “new way” would be uncomfortable and painful for our church who have been used to a generation of traditional youth ministry.
- We wanted to go headlong into an intergenerational approachto youth ministry. As an Advisory Council member of Fuller Youth Institute, our church has been digging into their Sticky Faith (stickyfaith.org) research for nearly 4 years. And we believe in it.
- 2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:12 became guiding Scriptures for us as to what we believe about youth and the church.
- Mutuality, Intentionality, and Meaningful Togetherness – Yes, students need age-appropriate gatherings and training, but this should be the exception, not the rule. We believe in an age appropriate version of the broader church vision and practice so students can transition into the broader church post-graduation.
Our Student Integration Pastor is to contribute to and collaborate with the broader church for meaningful, intentional, and mutual ways to connect students to the Church.
- Relational and regional, not programmatic and segmented.
- Collaborative and Big Picture – In all things, we would look at ways the entire church was at work, growing and being developed, and consider how that might intersect with our students.
- Champion for teenagers – Lead banner-waver reminding our church of their responsibility of spiritually forming teenagers, not just the youth ministry’s job.
At first, we felt a lot of resistance and skepticism that this was just a trendy title for the same-ol’ thing. Many of the faithful didn’t even believe in what we were doing, but we kept casting vision, praying for God to bring the right leader (Joshua 1), and sharing stories of a future hope. Four months into this new position and it clearly is a new thing. Yes, programs and events have changed. But it’s the focus, the time reallocation, the ways we talk about youth ministry that’s the real difference.
It’s changing our church in so many ways. With a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I’m glad we didn’t hire a youth pastor for this new season of ministry at our church.