Popular youth ministry author and speaker, Doug Franklin, who I greatly respect, recently posted this on social media:
I often get calls from churches seeking great youth ministry candidates for their open positions. They are all looking for the same thing. A 27-29 year-old who is married (wife must love discipling girls and in the youth ministry), has 6+ years of experience, has been to seminary, and wants to do youth ministry for the next 10 years. I tell every church the same thing: he doesn’t exist, and if he does, his church is paying him so much that he will never leave. This is why churches should have a youth ministry internship program. Today, with so many new churches, it’s necessary to create an incubator where youth workers can grow into the fantasy candidate their church wants.
Upon seeing Doug’s post, I immediately thought, “Well—maybe if churches weren’t eliminating half the population, they’d have a better shot at finding their ideal youth ministry candidate."
But as I watched the comments on this post explode, with male after male agreeing with it and—at the time I last checked—only one person (a female) commenting about the gender bias here, my frustration grew.
I’ve been on more than one mission trip when staff have assumed that a male volunteer was the youth pastor; not me. That, in and of itself, is problematic but even in ministry settings that affirm my giftedness and abilities to lead as a female, I’ve encountered similar impossible-to-meet expectations:
The ideal (female) youth ministry is a 27-29 year-old who is married (husband must love discipling boys or be extremely handy), has 6+ years of experience, and wants to do youth ministry for the next 10 years. Her husband must also work a good-paying job (because the church will automatically pay her a fraction of what they’ll pay her male counterpart) that provides health insurance (because again, her church will not.)
The ideal candidate will be a devoted mother—to everyone but her own kids, as the church will expect her to work weekends, evenings, and drop everything at the slightest hint of an emergency.
The ideal candidate will have a baby shortly after being hired (to attract young families) but won’t take maternity leave (because even in motherhood, her priority must be serving God). The ideal candidate will also never nurse her newborn baby in public because doing so will make her male colleagues far too uncomfortable.
The ideal candidate will also be professional. She’ll wear feminine clothes that aren’t too feminine (because she’ll know better than to tempt anyone!) She’ll lead, but not in a bossy way. She’ll have opinions, but only offer them in kind ways, never in tones that might be perceived as abrasive. She’ll acquiesce to any idea offered by a male and she’ll gracefully give senior leaders the credit for her best ideas.
Of course, as Doug correctly points out, this person does not exist. Or if she does, she’s far too smart to work for the church.
Maybe, though, the problem in all of this isn’t the failure of churches to create pipelines where youth workers can grow into the fantasy candidate their church wants.
Maybe the problem is that we keep trying to manufacture fantasy candidates to begin with.
Maybe the solution, then, is to set realistic expectations that allow good youth workers—of any gender—to grow and thrive in their roles and help the young people in their care to do the same.