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.
and 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.