women in youth ministry, and april diaz’s ymcp cohort

the brou-ha-ha over the last couple weeks about the under-representation of female voices at christian ministry events (see here for starters, but there’s lots more) has had me thinking a bit about women in youth ministry. i know that, for a segment of the church, this is mostly a non-issue. their traditions have long viewed women as equally gifted for and called to ministry. but i also know that so many of my sisters in ministry continue to be viewed as “limited” in what they can or should do, and what roles they can or should embody. and for those women, there’s an additional layer of complexity in that it’s often not safe for them to talk about it.

this made me think of two particular women in youth ministry that i’m partnering with these days (two of many, to be clear): gina abbas, a wonderfully gifted youth minister, newly the JH Pastor at mars hill bible church, and currently writing a book for The Youth Cartel for women in youth ministry; and april diaz, a very longtime friend of mine who is one of the most gifted leaders of any gender i’ve ever met (who, coincidentally, also wrote a book for The Youth Cartel!).

that made me remember a lament april wrote for me a couple years ago. i was working on a large multi-author project, and specifically asked april to write a lament to god about the place of women in church leadership. i asked april because i know her to be gracious to peoples’ stories and not demanding or rude in how she talks about these issues. april wrote this wonderful “prayer” based on psalm 40:


Lament for Psalm 40

Waiting. No one likes waiting. Maybe me least of all. I’ve waited 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 were 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 voices, their gifts, their experiences, their 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?

You are solid and steady and trustworthy. When your Church fails me, I can still be amazed by who you are. I will find my hope in you, 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. 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. Help me not be afraid to speak out and speak for those who do not have a voice, but to do so with humility and love.

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.

and here’s the killer, that points out the problem and almost caused me to pull out of the whole project: we weren’t allowed to use this piece, because a major, conservative, christian bookstore chain would not carry the project if april’s lament was included. april was as gracious about the whole thing as one can possibly imagine.

yc-all-black-300x68and this is one of a hundred reasons i’m glad april will be leading a cohort of my youth ministry coaching program for women in youth ministry. the women in all my other coaching cohorts have been equal in every way, and have added so tremendously to each group. but some, i realize, would particularly benefit from being a part of a cohort that allows them a sisterhood, a place that’s truly safe to not only think about youth ministry and leadership, but also to lean on each other. april’s cohort will be a modified version — 2 face to face meetings of two days, and 4 shorter online meetings. we’re limiting it to 8 participants, 5 of whom are already committed. april’s really hoping to get the remaining spots filled in the next few weeks, so the cohort can look for an early-2014 launch date. if you’re interested and would like more information, please email april directly, as [email protected] april has blogged about this cohort here and here and here.

27 thoughts on “women in youth ministry, and april diaz’s ymcp cohort”

  1. Marko

    This really hit me “and here’s the killer, that points out the problem and almost caused me to pull out of the whole project: we weren’t allowed to use this piece, because a major, conservative, christian bookstore chain would not carry the project if april’s lament was included. april was as gracious about the whole thing as one can possibly imagine.”

    What was your logic for not pulling out?


  2. I wonder, just a wondering, if part of the reason women aren’t invited into conference leadership is because they are segmented off into “women in ministry” cohorts. Personally, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to move into spaces that are dominated by men–not because they aren’t friendly or hold misogynistic views, but because they are already friends with each other.

    A really fabulous early civil rights activist, lawyer, poet, and first black woman ordained in the Episcopal Church, Pauli Murray, wrote about her time in law school (at which she graduated top of her class) and following–she wasn’t allowed access into the friendly after-class networking times that then turned into job offers and access to opportunities.

    This is also why we don’t see (m)any people of color at many of these same conferences listed in speaker list, There aren’t extensive professional and personal friendships making “the ask” possible between organizers and speakers. Current speakers don’t have “friend-access” to people who are unlike them to mentor into those roles.

    We are all in this together. We all have to stop separating from one another and resist the urge to befriend only those to whom we have obvious affinity.

    Lastly, a dear friend with Afro-Caribbean roots taught me the importance of seeing someone who looks like her behind the pulpit. “It helps me have confidence to do it myself, to imagine that I can stand in that space, too.” What she says rings true: how many women did I need to see speak and preach before it felt safe for me? Many.

    We might not have the ability to completely change these systems, but we are responsible for creating an imagination that it is possible for each person to stand up and speak out of their expertise and experience for the young(er) leaders.

  3. josh — good question. i really, really struggled with it. i sought input from a bunch of trusted people, including april. it was a major project for me that i was 90% finished with at that point. i was contracted to deliver, and the contract was very, very clear that the publisher had the right to do that. i also felt there were so many other unique and beautiful things about the product that i hated to pull out, particularly when there were several other pieces of similar importance that i was sure would get pulled if i wasn’t staying in there, lobbying for them.

  4. alaina, for the record, The Youth Cartel’s event two weekends ago in Atlanta (The Summit) had 18 presenters. 8 of them were women, and 7 were people of color. we’re very committed to diversity. but i think there’s a both/and here, rather than an either/or. we have a commitment to diversity at our events, and all my past coaching groups have been mixed gender; and i want to give women in youth ministry (particularly those who have struggled to find a safe place to be completely authentic) an option.

  5. Yeah, Marko, I should have been clear: I’m not critiquing Youth Cartel so much as I am critiquing the larger church and youth ministry resourcing industry.

    I think we ALL still have to grapple with how our affinities and friendships with people who are like us determine who sits next to us in church, who we ask to help us with ministry projects, our perspectives on what is critical.

    We all need our affinity group to have a safe space, but affinity groups can be a very dangerous place to stay.

    This is self-indictment as much as it is systems-indictment, too.

  6. got it, alaina. i’m usually both/and on this sort of thing. when it comes to what we’ve learned about the problem of isolating teenagers in the church, i’m the same way. we have to work to integrate teenagers into the life of the church; but that doesn’t mean we should completely shut down any opportunities for teenagers to connect in their own life-stage affinity also.

  7. Alaina,
    That’s a GREAT point. I’m also VERY committed to diversity and being uncomfortable. I was the first white pastor (2nd female pastor) my church hired 9+ years ago. I’m a minority in our church, married a hispanic guy, adopted 2 Ethiopia kids, had a mixed bio baby. All that to say, diversity is KEY for learning and growth.

    What I’ve found in launching this cohort are very few (any?) places exist where women are developed for the larger community. Not just a women’s event for women by women for the sake of women. The cohort is training and equipping for women to lead in a diverse church context.

    So many women quit leadership because they don’t have the language, skills, support, internal structures to handle the pressure that comes from leading in a man’s world. This cohort will equip women toward those ends. We won’t get those skills but slugging it out year after year on our own. It’s a customized, special ops kind of training. :)


  8. Marko,

    I get it, I kind of figured it was a contract issue. It just ticks me off that someone would activity try to silence an opinion they don’t agree with. I really think of our faith as a big tent (Jesus as the central post) things outside of of Jesus are often more a matter of opinion, interpretation, and experience. But I fully realize some people believe they have cornered the market on truth.


  9. Thanks for keeping the conversation going, Marko. And thanks for “introducing” me to April!

  10. hellooooo!!! I was just in online dialogue with April about this very thing – my thinking is that in almost all the dialogue about this, I am not seeing turning to Scripture as part of the discussion. We can have understandable opinions, but to sway one person to change a conviction about something which is theological (which underneath, this is about theology). I may have a personal thought on something, but unless I am convinced it is based from my beliefs about God, which for the majority do come from Scripture. So I would like to see some healthy Scriptural discussion on this. From knowing many complementation or soft-complementarian (meaning they may have “pastors” but not “elders” who are females) the root of their decisions is because of their theological conviction based out of the New Testament. I believe if we are going to see change, the discussion has to move to a Scriptural one. Especially the more conservative one is, the more important that one is to have any viewpoint changed. Most of my complementation friends would totally change their practice in their church of how women serve, if they believe Scripture taught that view. It isn’t as though they are intentionally being chauvinistic, they are being faithful to what they feel Scripture teaches. So that is really the discussion I wish we would have and from scanning almost every single blog post on this, that is void in the discussion. Some thoughts from Danny.

  11. danny my friend. you know me: i’m a big tent guy; and i want to be genuine friends with, as well as work alongside people with whom i don’t fully agree on every issue (this one included). of course, i know so many complimentarians who are wonderful people who are doing their very best to be diligent in living and leading according to what they believe the bible is teaching on this and other subjects. i’m sure i’m wrong on many, many things in my understanding of scripture (just as sure as i’m sure my complimentarian friends are wrong on this one!). :) heck — my church was complimentarian until about four years ago, and i stayed anyhow. i am all good with living in the tension.

    and, of course, there has been SO MUCH healthy (and unhealthy) discussion on this, really.

    and, the point of my post was not discussion. it was about posting april’s beautiful lament (which is really just a personal cry out to god, not an axe-wielding diatribe!), and to connect that to why women in youth ministry should consider being a part of april’s YMCP cohort! :)

  12. btw: if anyone reading this is thinking, “yeah, but i really wish marko would suggest a good book that would help me sort out these issues,” there are two, and they’re both by scot mcknight:
    – the very short ebook, Junia Is Not Alone (http://www.amazon.com/Junia-Not-Alone-Scot-McKnight-ebook/dp/B006H4PFZ8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384809921&sr=1-1&keywords=junia+is+not+alone)
    – and the regular length book on biblical interpretation (with an understanding of what the bible says about women in leadership as an extended case study), The Blue Parakeet (http://www.amazon.com/The-Blue-Parakeet-Rethinking-Bible-ebook/dp/B001UFMUDY/ref=pd_sim_b_3)

  13. Dan,

    Years ago I remember listening to a 4-hour long cassette tape from John Ortberg on what the Bible has to say about men and women in ministry. My new favorite resource, however, is a sermon delivered by homiletician Dave Ward simply walking through the poignant passages of Scripture on this matter. Definitely worth a listen. This is a staple resource we use in introduction to ministry courses at Indiana Wesleyan.

    Plus he’s a fantastic preacher to boot. Here’s the link:


  14. Mandy!

    I have listened to the John Ortberg tape series on this which was great.

    And thank you for the link to the video – I will watch that it for sure!


  15. Thanks Marko.

    “You are solid and steady and trustworthy. When your Church fails me, I can still be amazed by who you are. I will find my hope in you, 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. Give me the courage I need to be faithful today.”

    This is exactly what I needed to heat. Some of the problems I have dealt with really do come from broken systems.

    I am part of a denominational leadership team of mixed gender but mostly males. If it weren’t for that group of men, part of “my tribe”, I would not still be in ministry today. They have supported me, encouraged me, and just listened to me vent. But in the end it really does come down to me and Jesus – and I need to trust him to work it all out.

  16. Hi April,

    I’m on board with what you are talking about. I hope that your cohort will empower women to find routes of wider leadership and ministry.

    I think we have to attend to the system by which preachers, speakers, writers, leaders, etc. are chosen (again, not a critique of YC, but of the church writ large including myself). This cohort seems to be one way of answering that system failure so I applaud that effort and am thankful that it is happening.

    How can we continue the witness beyond that? How can we teach young people in our churches to see this system and work against it? Where are the resources teaching us (and our young people) that part of the gospel is God’s dislocation from heaven into an inhospitable earth? That empowers justice and reconciliation (along all kinds of dividing lines) from a systems AND personal perspective? That empowers Christian practices of faithful dislocation and reconciliation? (These are mostly rhetorical questions, hoped-for possibilities. I am thankful for the people and resources that work to answer these as lived-out realities and find myself continually re-committed to the work.)

    Thanks for humoring me, Marko and April. I really care deeply for the church and her young and the leaders of the young and for the harm we’ve unintentionally caused through the years along these lines. Thanks for creating a micro-forum. May there be more. :)

  17. Thanks for posting this. I remember sitting on a church bus a few summers back as we were driving 2 buses up to summer camp. 80 students. 60 are girls. 20 are boys. The male youth pastor gets paid 80k and the female one gets 40k (it was Southern California…so high cost of living) Didn’t feel very “complementary.” I am thankful for women like April and the Youth Cartel. I am thankful to work at a church offering fair and equal compensation.

  18. April…wanted to add to a comment you made in response to Alaina above about leading in a man’s world and having the language, skills, and support to do so. This past week we had a staff Thanksgiving lunch. As staff began to arrive, and before we sat down at table to eat, everyone stood closest to the people they were most familiar and comfortable with. I noticed all the female staff were standing on one side of the room (in a church which champions equality!) chatting and all the men on the other. I joked “hey this isn’t middle school” and walked over to the “guys” and engaged in conversation with them. I had to be intentional and I had to leave my “introvert bubble” to purposefully embrace the equality available to me. I was not going to wimp out and stay in familiar territory. I moved to Michigan for goodness sakes! Why hide out now?

  19. Hey Gina,
    It breaks my heart to hear about the pay gap in the scenario you shared. Do you have insight into other things that may have contributed to the lack of equity? Such as:
    – His tenure at the church vs. hers
    – His official position/responsibilities vs. hers
    – His experience vs. hers
    – His education vs. hers

    I certainly hope there were some other contributing factors other than gender. PLEASE let it be so!

  20. KJ I wish things always played out as they should. I am in a church that supports women in leadership but interestingly the women are all in the lowest paid roles. The guy in charge of finances and grounds is on a higher pay scale than the youth and children’s directors both of which are women. I am the youth director with a masters degree in pastoral ministry and, at the encouragement of the church leadership, I was ordained last year. But I am not called pastor and am definitely still towards the bottom of salaries. I have really learned that all I can do is trust God and know that all I do is for him.

  21. YD,
    For certain, way too much inequity exists in the church…I’ve witnessed it myself numerous times. I’m just holding onto hope that the differences aren’t always due to gender.

    In the ministry I lead, I’ve made a point (and have often been criticized for it) of only allowing normative factors contribute to pay. So things like experience, education, longevity and responsibility do contribute to pay where things like gender, number of children in family, “life stage”, lifestyle choices (“I need a raise because we just bought a home.”) being the primary breadwinner etc. don’t. In essence, we pay what we pay…and when you perform well and stick around a while, you get paid a little more.

  22. KJ- There are two sides to every story, huh? From my perspective
    – Same education (both with Master’s Degrees from Seminary)
    – Same years of experience
    – Only 1 year difference in “tenure” at that church
    – Both receiving a “pastoral” housing allowance
    However he was the boss (only men are ministry pastors there) but she and interns did most of the work (I am sure he disagrees).
    I’ve come to value a pay scale, similar to what school districts use. Based on education, experience and tenure. Not gender. Not nepotism.

  23. All systems, whether church leadership or a large corporation drift towards homogeny. In my experience church leaders hire people that they know or that people they trust vouch for and since these people travel in the same circles churches tend to have staffs that are eerily similar. I know of many churches that have not just gender or racially homogenous but have staffs that have almost identical interests, politics and personalities. I find that it is harmful to the idea of the body and prevents churches from seeing things from other perspectives.

    Also i can’t remember the last time i was in a christian book store, maybe 4 years. i can’t believe they control that much of the book market any more.

  24. Thanks for the conversation and, especially, a peek into the gracious spirit of April on this. Here are three disconnected thoughts:

    1- The breakthrough Bible commentary for me on this subject was Gilbert Bilzekian’s Beyond Sex Roles. As a Biblically conservative empiricist I wanted to find a way to handle problem passages of Scripture that did not make me gag on poor hermeneutics. Bilzekian’s book did that for me…and it helped that he was a Wheaton College Bible prof and a founding elder of Willow Creek.

    2- There is a systemic side to this issue and a personal one. It can be very confusing to tackle one without getting confused in the other. For instance, when I’m talking to myself about being passed over for anything, or my “rights”, I think it’s really wise to not presume anything in the presence of the Lord. Waiting is, after all, a significant formation strategy he uses with us. And the disciples got a crystal clear tutorial about the virtue of leading from a servant’s posture. Sometimes we act like the servant-leader status is intended to be a temporary trajectory rather than the real end-game intended by Jesus for us. All of these musings are what I will say to myself. I honestly believe that I too often am inclined to chase the wrong outcome. Knowing that this is the state of my own soul I wonder if it’s common for every one of us…making this aspect of the gender equality journey systemic in a weirdly personal way.

    3- Justice-seeking strategies are not always equal to seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, are they? I’m a white man with leadership credentials. But I aspire to spiral into a “fellowship of suffering” posture with those who are not getting their just due rather than to pave the way toward ascendant leadership that I believe is more threatening to the life of the church than any other system. Strangely, if I’m willing to lay my own status on the line to advocate for someone else, I can be certain that it’s good for my heart. But if I have to advocate for myself? That’s not always healthy. I hope I can avoid being patronizing when I say that it seems like the burden of justice-seeking on all matters of diversity should be carried by those in power…not so others gain power…but so they don’t have their own hearts injured in the process.

    I told you this was all over the place. Look forward to hearing more from others.

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