Women have a unique set of challenges and joys when it comes to working in children’s ministry. Here’s how to help bridge the gap.
While on the staff of an organization that ministered to college students, I attended an associational luncheon for my denomination. After lunch, the associational president stood up and said in his most austere voice, “We need to have a ‘committee on committee’ meetings in this back room. I’d like all of you men to join me for a few minutes.”
The men exited, leaving me — the only female staffer — sitting there with their wives. The men took care of the “real” business, and I fumed as I listened to the women talk about diapers and breastfeeding.
That was 10 years ago. To borrow a not-so-holy slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Or have we? As we talked to women in children’s ministry, we discovered there are still unique challenges that women face as they try to serve God in a professional ministry role.
The Gender Gap
It’s a subjective evaluation — whether women are treated differently from men. But our female sources pinpointed these challenges women face:
In many churches, there are certain positions a woman cannot hold. Pope John Paul II recently reaffirmed the ban on women priests and many churches don’t allow women pastors. Church leadership points to 1 Timothy 2:12 for biblical support to exclude women from certain roles. Some churches even forbid women to teach males who are 13 or older.
Children’s ministry is often seen as “women’s work” so women may get less respect. Kelly*, a director of children’s ministry, says, “Women are supposed to take care of the kids. Where a man, in my position, would command a lot more respect…So I think men probably have a little more of an edge.”
“Being in church work,” says Kim Rice, a Christian education director in Arizona, “I notice that as a woman, I’m expected to fulfill many clerical duties that the males in the office do not. Clerical staff tend to see me as an equal because they’re women. And they’re not as willing to be helpful to me or to support me in my role.”
A difference in people’s responses
Men seem to have better results in recruiting. “I see people come forward a little bit quicker and more willing to help the men,” says Rice. “I have to be much more assertive and willing to go out and ask people for help.”
Kelly also recognizes men’s effectiveness in recruiting men. She says, “A lot of our leadership is men and they attract other men. If your leadership is all-female, you have a harder time attracting men.”
Women face greater demands to balance home life and their ministry. “The #1 difference is the challenge that [women] have in running a home as well as a full-time ministry,” says Mary Van Aalsburg, a director of children’s ministries in California. “That would probably be done the same as any woman in business, except that in this position you have 600 or whatever-plus children that you’re caring for as well as your own kids who are #1.”
As with my experience, women often have less of a voice in decision-making. One woman actually wrestled with resigning from her position because she felt the children weren’t represented well since she was a woman.
“I think ministry is still predominantly a married, male environment,” says Kelly. “I’m a single female. I know that here on this staff that I’m respected, but I think there are times when I voice things…[and men think] ‘Oh, that’s just a typical female response.’ If I were a man, I don’t know that I would get the same response…Every now and then I have to work through, ‘No, this isn’t a hysterical woman. This is someone that’s got some responsibility for these kids and you need to hear this.’ ”
Although being a woman presents unique difficulties in ministry, every woman we spoke to affirmed that God had given her special ministry gifts in her womanhood.
“I think that, on the whole, people are perhaps more open to me because I am a woman,” says Rice. “And they’re more willing to come to me — whether that’s the children or the youth. They see me kind of as a mom figure in the church and someone they can talk to.”
“I think I have a God-given nurturing [ability] that God gave women,” says Tanya*. “That really enhances what we do because we care for children, and because we’re trying to nurture leaders who deal with children. It’s a real advantage.”
Woman to Woman
We asked these women what advice they’d give to a woman just starting out in children’s ministry. While all of these tips aren’t gender-specific, they will make you more effective as a woman in ministry.
- Pray. The #1 thing these professionals pointed out was to bathe your life in prayer. Pray about everything you do. (Sounds biblical!)
- Put your family first. Even with “liberated” families where the husband helps out, the main responsibility for the home falls on the woman. Before you jump into ministry, make sure your family is 100 percent behind you. Prepare family members for the sacrifices they’ll have to make as they share you with a church.
- Communicate well. “Communicate regularly with the supervisor and pastoral staff,” advises Rice. “Clarify expectations, and have a clear job description so you know what’s expected of you in your job.”
- Find support. Network with other ministerial women so you can talk about special challenges and joys. Look to these people to brainstorm how you can resolve conflicts and problems.
- Manage your time. Use a time-management program or a good calendar to help you juggle everything.
- Burn the chip on your shoulder (if you have one). Submit to God in your ministry. If church leadership says no to a suggestion, see it as God’s direction. Don’t make every issue a “women in ministry” issue. Find your significance not in your ministry but in your relationship with God-and that doesn’t rise or fall on whether you have a Y chromosome.
Christine Yount Jones is the former executive editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine.
Confronting Sexual Harassment
As a woman in ministry, you may someday face the unimaginable in a church setting — sexual harassment. If so, here’s what to do.
- Take action immediately.
- Don’t make excuses for the perpetrator.
- Document everything in writing.
- Confront the perpetrator. Then go with someone to the church board.
- Make sure your church addresses sexual harassment as a sin.
- Because sexual harassment will leave scars, ask the church to pay for your therapy.
- Finally, see that your church has a written policy on sexual harassment before anything happens.
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