The transformative power of women in vocational ministry

For the next two weeks, we'll be talking about transformational moments in ministry: Moments that have transformed our faith or changed the way we do ministry. Over the next few days, you'll hear from several women in ministry who serve in various capacities - some paid, some volunteer; some in youth ministry, some not – from various denominations around the world.

Today's post is written by Elle Campbell. Elle's got a huge heart for middle school ministry (She works at The Chapel at Cross Point doing Middle School Ministry) and for equipping and supporting other youth workers, which she does through her ministry, Stuff You Can Use. She's also a blogger, which is how I first "met" and came to know Elle.

The summer after I graduated high school, our youth pastor took a group of high school students and high school graduates to a student leadership conference. For five days, we were challenged to make a difference, set big goals, have a vision, and change the world for Jesus. I loved it.

Toward the end of the conference, one communicator in particular caught my attention. Because we all have unique gifts and passions, he said, the way each of us serves God should be unique too. Some of us would go on to serve God in the “world,” as doctors or lawyers or politicians or whatever else we wanted to do. And some of us, he said, would serve God in vocational ministry - maybe in a church or missions organization.

As a recent high school graduate who was still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, I paid close attention. I had a ton of interests and talents and passion, but little eighteen-year-old me hadn’t yet figured out how to pull all of those things together for a future career.

I did know, though, that I loved leading and helping and serving in my church and my youth group. So when the communicator mentioned “vocational ministry,” I started to wonder...

Then he asked us to stand. If we thought God had called us to serve Him and make a difference in the world through vocational ministry, we were supposed to stand.

I remember thinking, Is that me? Does God want me to do ministry? Should I stand?

I thought about the small group I was leading, the opportunities my youth pastor had already given me to lead and serve within our youth group, the leadership role I had taken at my school Bible club, and all the other ministry things I was involved with.

And I thought: Yeah! Maybe I’m supposed to do ministry! Maybe that’s how I’m going to make a difference!

For a second, I was super pumped. But then I started thinking about what a future in ministry might actually look like for me. And then this happened:

Well, I’m a girl, so I obviously can’t be a pastor or lead a ministry... so what could I do?

I tried to think of all the types of ministry I’d seen women do at our church.

Children’s ministry... women’s ministry... pastors’ assistants... receptionists...

And that was pretty much it.

Oh, and playing the organ.

I hated all of those options.

I loved the church... but I couldn’t think of a single church role where I felt I could make a significant difference using my gifts, my talents, and my gender.

So I stayed seated.

I wanted to make a difference by serving God in ministry. But I thought I couldn’t. Because I was a girl. And you know what? At the time, this didn’t even bother me.

Back then, I took it as a given that women didn’t do ministry in meaningful ways - at least, not on staff at a church. Women didn’t have much of a place there. In my church experience, unless they were teaching small children or other women, I never saw women in meaningful vocational church leadership.

As a teenager, I never really thought about the absence of female leaders in my church. I’m not sure it ever crossed my mind. But even so, their absence shaped me. It shaped my view of church and gender and my self-worth and how God could use me.

And, for a while, it kind of messed me up.

Fortunately though, the day eventually came when I realized that yes, God really did have a place for me in ministry. And yes, I could do big things in the local church while also being a girl.

I just wish I’d known it sooner. I wish it had been modeled for me.

Today (after 10 years of dramatic growth and transformation in our church’s leadership, identity, and culture), I get to do Middle School Ministry in the church where I grew up. And I am so happy. I get to serve on a team where, as a female, I am heard, valued, respected, and trusted. It’s awesome.

But I think about that moment at that student leadership conference pretty often. And I think about what we can do, today, to make sure we don’t repeat the missteps of previous generations.

In our ministry, we want to see girls grow up believing that they can do whatever God has called them to do - even vocational ministry. We want them to know they matter to God and to the local church. We never want to give them a reason to question their voice or value or place in the Body of Christ. We want them to see incredible, strong, Godly women leading and teaching and making a difference.

So we put women in key leadership positions. We give girls microphones and we put them on stage.

We have girls (high school, college-aged, and adult) teaching, leading worship, hosting, planning, interning, discipling, and doing really awesome, meaningful ministry to teenagers.

It is so fun to watch.

And in a few years, I’m guessing at least one of our little middle school girls will find herself thinking, Hey! Maybe I’m supposed to do ministry! Maybe that’s how I’m going to make a difference!

When that happens, I’m hoping her next thought won’t be, But I can’t.

I’m praying it will be something like, God, I’m so ready.

Other posts in this series:

The transformative power of conflict;

The transformative power of story


Heather Campbell

Elle, this is bomb. Love that we have some great women in ministry.

Posted by Heather Campbell, about 7 years ago


Thanks for sharing Elle! I love your resources over at Stuff You Can Use and my job for the past several years was exactly the same as yours in a LARGE middle school ministry. I love hearing stories of how God CALLS WOMEN into full time vocational YOUTH ministry!

Posted by youthleadergina, about 7 years ago

Carol Kuniholm

Thanks for sharing this. I grew up in a tradition where women were strongly excluded from any kind of pastoral ministry. When God led me into full-time youth ministry in my forties, it occurred to me I had never - even then - known another woman in full time youth ministry. Thank you for being faithful to God's call, and for modeling faithful ministry for the generations behind you.

Posted by Carol Kuniholm, about 7 years ago

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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