I am the product of an all-girls Catholic high school.
Without a doubt, I got a good education at the all-girls Catholic high school I attended. Beyond that, though, my all-girls education gave me all sorts of leadership opportunities – opportunities that, quite honestly, I’m not sure I would have had or taken in a co-ed environment.
Surrounded by all-girls, I was taught – over and over again – that I could do anything. Because guys simply weren’t around, I was free to speak my mind, without having to worry about trying to impress them. I was encouraged to solve problems creatively and never once had to worry about mansplaining, that awkward moment when a guy tells you all about one of your own ideas or explains something to you that you already know. I was mentored and guided by other powerful women.
By the time I graduated high school, I was a confident leader convinced I could lead anyone.
Four years later, I entered professional youth ministry where as a woman, I suddenly found myself in the minority. Although I remained confident in my leadership skills and abilities, I quickly encountered others who doubted them, simply because of my gender.
At conferences, people assumed I was a volunteer, not a paid youth worker.
On mission trips, people assumed my husband was the paid youth worker and I, the dutiful pastor’s wife.
At staff meetings, I’d regularly get mansplained.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
I’m thankful for my male colleagues. I’m thankful for the men who serve as leaders in my youth ministry. And I’m thankful for guys who work as paid youth pastors.
The Kingdom of God needs us all.
But unlike my experience of all-female leadership in high school, I’m also aware of just how lonely it can be when you’re a female in a male-dominated world.
I know how frustrating it can be to have people question your calling simply because of your gender.
I recognize how tempting it can be to try to lead like the male youth pastor down the street in order to gain the approval and acceptance of others.
Having experienced the unique challenges that come with being a woman in youth ministry, I’m super excited to be part of The Youth Cartel’s Women in Youth Ministry Campference, April 13 – 15.
At the Women in Youth Ministry Campference, we’ll gather together with other people LIKE US. We’ll link arms with women who understand us because they’ve been where we are. They know the unique joys and challenges that come with being a woman in youth ministry.
During the Campference, we’ll learn and collaborate with other women in youth ministry; laugh together and cry together; and share our deepest joys and sorrows without having to worry about being misunderstood.
Campference will provide us with what my all-girls education provided me with all those years ago: support, affirmation, guidance, and confidence. After three days together, I have no doubt we’ll leave feeling better equipped and energized to return to our ministries knowing that what we uniquely bring to them as women in youth ministry is indeed a gift.
Jen Bradbury serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. She’s the author of The Jesus Gap. Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal and The Christian Century, and she blogs regularly at ymjen.com. When not doing ministry, she and her husband, Doug, can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling with their daughter, Hope.