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The Final Frontier

8545176138_5b3d2744e4_kNot long ago, popular Christian author Annie Downs tweeted “Sometimes it feels like youth ministry is the final frontier for women in leadership.

A friend asked me what I thought of this. To be honest, I’m not sure I agree with Annie’s premise.

When I hear the phrase “final frontier”, I think of the last unexplored area in a particular region or industry. To me, that’s not what youth ministry is for women in leadership.

Sure, as a woman in youth ministry, I get frustrated when I don’t see other youth workers that look like me. I feel alone when I walk into a local youth ministry network meeting and am one of only two women in a room full of 30 men. I find it hard to engage in conferences that have few, if any, female speakers.

Even so, I’m reluctant to claim youth ministry is the “final frontier” for women in leadership. I mean, I’ve been privileged to be mentored by women who have been doing youth ministry for decades. Given that, how can youth ministry still be the final frontier for women in leadership?

What’s more, even though I know how lonely being a female youth pastor can be, I question whether or not women in youth ministry are actually outnumbered by men. While I failed to find verifiable statistics about this, I suspect there are more PAID male youth pastors then female ones. However, if we also include unpaid youth workers and volunteers in the mix, I’m less confident that’s still the case.

Numbers aside, however, what bothers me most about this notion of youth ministry as the final frontier for women in leadership is that it steals the focus away from our actual calling.

As a female in youth ministry, my call isn’t to rid the world of male youth pastors. My call is to love and disciple teenagers – male and female – and to help them discover what it means to follow Jesus in their daily lives.

I’m not convinced that thinking I’m some pioneer in the “final frontier” for women in leadership is helpful for faithfully fulfilling my calling in youth ministry.

Let me tell you what is.

Being around other women who understand this. It’s super helpful and encouraging to be around women who serve in the trenches of youth ministry day in and day out; Who love and care for teens who walk into their home unannounced or who call them at all hours of the night; Who faithfully equip other adults for leadership because we know this calling is too hard to do ourselves; And who understand the unique ways in which being a woman in youth ministry is hard.

Because it is.

Being a woman in youth ministry is hard enough without thinking it’s the “final frontier” that has to be conquered for women in leadership. It’s hard because as women, we face unique challenges that our male counterparts don’t.

No matter how awesome male youth pastors are, they don’t understand what it feels like to cry when you stumble upon the perfect job, only to realize it’s at a church that doesn’t affirm female leadership; To sit in a meeting and have your idea ignored only to have your male colleague say the same thing 5 minutes later and be recognized and praised for his awesome idea; To have your spouse mistaken for the youth pastor while at camp or on summer mission trips; Or to have people assume that once the baby comes, you’ll leave your job because you can’t possibly be a good mom and a good youth pastor.

To survive these unique challenges, we’ve got to connect with other women in youth ministry.

That’s why I’m thankful for organizations like the Youth Cartel who are committed to helping women do just that through events like the Women in Youth Ministry Campference.

This is an event led by women in youth ministry, for women in youth ministry.

It’s a place where you won’t feel alone, where you’ll be nurtured and encouraged, and where you’ll be able to connect with other people who understand the unique challenges and blessings that come with being a woman in youth ministry.

You’ll leave this space feeling empowered to return to your work in youth ministry knowing that what you do matters – not because you’re exploring uncharted territory on behalf of women everywhere but because you’re faithfully fulfilling the unique calling God has given you to love and disciples teens.

Jen-Headshot-250x250Jen 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. Her writing has appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. When not doing ministry, she and her husband Doug can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling. Jen is also a Cartel author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus.

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