I met Heather Lea Campbell via Facebook, I think. Which is kinda weird, because we used to live in the same town. In fact, I’m pretty sure she and my wife went to the same elementary school. We never met then. But she writes a lot, and she writes good—er…I mean well. Check out her stuff at www.youthmin.org if you know what’s good for you. In addition to writing for them, she also edits for them, which means I re-read this italicized paragraph about 18 times before feeling safe.
Thanks for sharing this good word on ministering to girls, Heather! Without further ado, three ways we mess up ministering to girls:
1. Our programming is masculine.
I’ve heard it said before that the church as a whole is feminine, and I can kind of see that—I mean, there are poinsettias everywhere. However, I think youth ministry is totally masculine.
I’ve also heard it said “Make your ministry feminine, and females will come; make your ministry masculine, and males will come and females will follow.” Perhaps that is true… but that is wrong.
Let me be blunt:
- Most young women hate messy games. They do not want to embarrass themselves by slime clinging to their clothes and exposing their figure. They don’t want their makeup washed off and their “real” face vulnerable.
- Most young women also hate games that involve eating food in front of a crowd of people. No girl wants to shove down donuts or drink a gallon of milk in front of a crowd. The whole time she’s thinking, “What if I win? Everyone is going to think it’s because I’m fat.”
So how do you solve this? I don’t think the ideas in themselves are evil; the solution is to create options. Have your volunteers participate in the games, and let the crowd laugh along. Don’t worry if you ask for male and female student volunteers for a game, and you don’t get exactly half-and-half equals.
Another idea is that you can have multiple activities going on at the same time. We had slip-n-slide kickball at camp, and none of our girls wanted to play. Being the well-prepared leader that I am, I had some jump ropes and chalk in my backpack. I got frustrated that some of my girls wanted to just sit there and socialize, but then I realized…that’s what I would have done too. If some of your girls want to just sit there, let them sit there. Let them be comfortable in their zones.
2. We don’t have enough female leaders.
We tell young women that they need to be ministers of the gospel and spread the message of Christ to others, yet we provide very few examples of women actually doing so. And truthfully, the examples we do have tend to be very weak and frail versions of women. Women are more than just Sunday School teachers with cat sweaters who bake cookies every Sunday. Women can be empowering.
My suggestion? Have the same male-to-female-leaders ratio as male-to-female-students. If you have 80 females and 20 males, you need to have a 8:2 ratio of staff. Same goes for 1:2, 20:1, 4:5, 5:5, etc. Also, have females on stage too—leading, teaching, singing, etc. Have women being examples in every area of life that you expect your young women to be in.
3. We play the shame game.
I’m sure every man can attest to the fact that women internalize things, and teenagers do it even more. If you tell a young lady that her shorts are too low (I even made the mistake of once telling a girl they were “skanky” while laughing…BIG. NO-NO.), she is going to think you are making a greater statement about her appearance and personality as a whole.
If you make a statement like “If you have sex before marriage, you are like a piece of gum that has been chewed; it can never be that original piece of gum again,” you are shaming young women into thinking that if they slip, and many will, that they are no longer precious children of God but shameful whores. Say a young woman is raped or sexually abused, which at least 1 out of 5 is, they will think that same “chewed gum law” applies.
We need to be honest about sin, yet we also need to be real about redemption. We have to provide young women with examples of real women who have suffered, slipped, and succeeded. Young ladies need mentors who will walk through life with them, speaking truth with them and being models of grace.
What do you think we need to improve on, when reaching girls?