Yesterday, one of my female student leaders taught a class at my church. Her teaching felt especially appropriate since it was international women’s day, a day in which we celebrate women and the movement for women’s rights.
My student leader and I are fortunate. We’re in an environment in which women regularly lead alongside men.
But I know that’s not the case everywhere. Given that, as youth workers, how can we support the girls in our ministries?
- Recognize their gifts. Girls are incredibly gifted. When you see their gifts, name them. Give girls the opportunity to use those gifts in your ministry. As they do, affirm them. Disciple them as they continue to develop their gifts and wrestle with how they can be used both inside and outside the church.
- Don’t pigeonhole girls into roles purely because of their gender. Girls can do more than sing, play with kids, and cook (although they should also be encouraged to do those things if they’re gifted in those areas!) Rather than assign students roles because of their genders, assign them roles because of their giftedness.
- Let them speak. Girls have stuff to say. So let them say it. Don’t put words in their mouth. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t try to explain what you think they’re saying. Instead, give the girls in your ministry a voice. Let your ministry be a safe space for them to say whatever’s on their minds and in their hearts.
- Don’t expect them to speak for all women. You’d never ask a guy to speak on behalf of all men everywhere. But you’d be surprised at how many times what girls say gets misconstrued as representing all women everywhere. Let the girls in your ministry have unique opinions that are simply theirs.
- Don’t reduce the girls in your ministry to their appearances. Let the girls in your ministry be who they are and wear what they want to wear. If they come in a dress and heels, hair done and make-up on, great. If they show up in sweat pants and a hat, great. Welcome them no matter what they’re wearing, in the same way you likely do with guys.
- Don’t speak down to them. Girls are smart. They’re not simple-minded. So challenge them to think deeply and critically about their faith and theology and to follow Jesus in their daily lives.
- Honor their emotions. Yes, girls can be emotional. But emotions are good. God gave us those emotions. So when you see those emotions, honor them. Let your ministry be a place where in the span of a few minutes, girls can express a full range of emotions – anger, sadness, hurt, grief, disappointment, and joy. Better yet, let your ministry be a place where tears can be shed, in times of both happiness and sorrow.
The creation story reminds us that males and females are both created in the image of God.
So let’s make sure that girls are celebrated and supported in our youth ministries, not just on international women’s day but on all days.