Guest post by Allison Williams
Reddington Christian Church
My high school youth group is predominantly freshmen guys this year. The way our midweek program is set up, there is a homework break for high school students between dinner and youth group. These freshmen fellas have organized a wrestling federation that takes place during this break. It’s a legitimate organization… there’s an $150 traveling trophy belt that the winner takes home weekly.
I simply do not understand wrestling. I am daily struggling to brainstorm ideas for how to keep them safe at youth group without killing the passion that they have for this sport. Just because I am a woman, and have no clue why body slamming my friend would ever be fun, does not mean I can blindly dismiss this wrestling momentum.
As a female youth minister, I often get asked the same question by my male counterparts, “How can I effectively minister to the girls in my youth ministry?” Truth be told, no one has every asked me how I relate to my male students. But I believe there are some universal truths for not neglecting to shepherd 50% of our student population:
- Show interest in things that you do not understand. Students love it when people are genuinely interested in what they are doing. Dive in: ask a student to explain the rules of the sport they are in, inquire about the band on their t-shirt, let them explain the difference between a regular manicure and a gel manicure. This is the stuff that matters to them. These small details come together to create their identity. When we dismiss these ‘little things’ they may feel like we are dismissing them as a person.
- Handle counseling delicately. If a female student needs to talk, do not immediately throw her at a female volunteer and abandon ship. Bring that female volunteer into the conversation and proceed together. It may be a topic that you need to bow out of and just let just the ladies handle. If that is the case, explain it to the student. But if you can handle the conversation (in the right environment, with the right safe guards), by all means handle it. If we are constantly handing the opposite gender off, they are going to feel passed over and second-class.
- Be gender sensitive when creating your space. I see threads online with youth ministers debating what gaming systems they should put in their youth rooms. Those systems are not cheap. And not to be sexist, but I have not had too many female gamers pass through my youth group. If we are willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on the guys’ atmosphere, what are we doing for the ladies? This isn’t necessarily a difficult or expensive addition. One of the easiest wins I’ve had with my middle school girls is Sharpies. I have metal cups with bright Sharpie markers laying all over our youth space with card stock nearby. These students create beautiful designs and posters. They do not even know the supplies are intentionally there for them. But I believe if nothing was designed with them in mind, they would feel that void.
I still have no clue what I am going to do with my freshmen wrestlers. But I do know that I am not going to shut them down without careful consideration. This is something they value and blindly dismissing it communicates something about their worth to me… it may even communicate something about their worth to God. So I will continue to youtube pro wrestling clips and google referee standards until I crack this case. Even though this is not natural to how I’m wired — my students interests are worth my time.