Making Your Youth Ministry a Safe Place for Girls

Odds are that if you went to a youth group as a teen, the youth pastor was male.  Odds also are that the youth pastor at your church is male.  If the youth pastor is you, good.  I’m writing this for you.

I firmly believe that youth groups should be safe and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of race, economic status, popularity, religious background, body type, and gender.  Whatever you believe about the genetic differences between males and females, girls and women have different interactions and experiences with culture, including Christian culture, than guys do.

The Church, as representatives of God, needs to treat girls in a way that reflects God’s love and acceptance of them.  If they can find safety, acceptance, empowerment, and inclusion in God, they should be able to see that reflected in the culture of our youth groups.

What are some practical ways to do that? Continue reading

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An Anthem of Valour

My grandma is one of the most amazing people I know. If anyone has displayed Christ accurately to me, it is her. During some of the most difficult years of my life, she would stay up with me for as long as I wanted to talk to her, and she listened, never judging or condemning, even when I talked about some of my frustrations with my parents.

She always checks with me before she cooks a meal to make sure that it will be something that I enjoy, and she buys my favourite instant oatmeal (Dino-Eggs, just for the record) when I am coming for a visit. She never criticizes my eating.

She encouraged me when I became frustrated with my inability to cook. She has been the one who reminds me that I am still competent and talented, and that I don’t need to be great at cooking after all.

She is honest, yet kind. Christ shines through her, but she doesn’t flaunt it. She is generous, yet wise. She is perceptive, but she does not worry about what she doesn’t know. She is steady in crises, and strong in more ways than one. She is a woman of valour, and her works deserve to be celebrated.

Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a woman worth noticing – a woman of valour. Throughout the book of Proverbs, you can find warnings to men to avoid the adulterous woman and to refuse to give in to her temptation. Proverbs 31 closes with the opposite message, originally aimed at young men: Look for a wife of noble character, an excellent wife, and a woman of wisdom. The Hebrew phrase for the title of this woman is eshet chayil, which can be translated as “woman of strength” or “woman of valour.” Read what this passage says about her. Continue reading

Maybe People are Okay

There are a few things that really get on my nerves:

  • When people are late
  • When people make me late
  • Harassment
  • When different foods touch each other on my plate
  • When people make jokes about feminism

Oh, I wish I had good comebacks for the things that people say.  I really do like the think that I’m witty.

I’m not.

So when someone makes fun of feminism, I just sit there and hate them.

I’m no stranger to feminism being looked down on.  It’s kind of discouraging, actually, how often I encounter sexism at school and at work.  It’s not unusual for me to hear someone talk about the so-called evils of feminism in a school where I am learning how to lead both men and women in the church.

This last week, a good friend of mine was on a roll with the feminism jokes: “I’m a feminist.  I have no problem with hitting women.”  “See, I don’t like feminism because then I can’t be chivalrous.”  “This is why I’m not a feminist: we guys don’t get as many bathroom stalls, so now I have to wait to use the washroom!”

And I sat there, and I got angrier and angrier.

I wanted to fight back.  I wanted him to understand how important feminism is to me, but I also wanted him to hurt like I was hurting.

But then I thought of Jesus’ instructions to love, and to turn the other cheek, and I didn’t want to.  God!  I said,  “Fight for me, because you said I shouldn’t fight for myself!  Defend my rights, because I can defend my own rights when I”m supposed to be willing to surrender them.  Fight for me!

Maybe what I meant was, Hurt him for me.  Make him feel guilty.

Maybe that’s why God didn’t agree to my suggestion.  Instead, God said, “Tell him.  Tell him that you are hurt.  Tell him how much this means to you.  Tell him how feminism means freedom from the abuse you experienced.  Tell him how rape culture has scarred women you care about.  Tell him about how feminism offers the hope that one day young ladies will be able to go for a run without worrying about catcalling or being followed by a group of guys.  Tell him that it matters to you.”

My hands shook as walked toward him after chapel.  I turned around twice, then resolved once again to go through with it.

Then I told him.  I told him about my family, about my friends, about me, and about how we all need feminism.  I told him that I couldn’t tell whether he actually believed what he joked about or not because way too may people do believe it.  I told him that I don’t want to tell him what to believe, but I do want him to understand how the jokes make me angry.

He listened.  He didn’t argue. “That totally makes sense,” he said.  He listened, and he apologized, and he stopped.

Maybe people are okay.

Maybe what is needed isn’t a fight, but a dialogue.  When both sides put down their swords and listen to each other, maybe things can start to change.

No Trespassing

Hold on,

Let me explain you a thing.

Far too many men seem to think

That I am theirs to criticize, utilize, harass as they please.

I am not.

I am a fellow human being.

I am not public property.

I shouldn’t have to put up a “NO TRESPASSING” sign

For you to get a clue when you’re crossing the line.

We don’t have to put “RESPECT ME” signs on our cars

For men to subject them to better treatment than movie stars.

Boy, when cars – mere objects – are treated better than women.

Houston, um, I think that we might have a problem.

I am not public property.

In fact, I don’t belong to any one else but me.

I am my own, and I am only mine.

I shouldn’t have to put up a “NO TRESPASSING” sign.

You need my permission to cross the boundary line.

Otherwise, don’t stalk me; don’t touch me: I am mine.

We Are Selfish, and Love Is Hard

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

– Ephesians 5:25, ESV

This is the radical part of Paul’s message to the Ephesians.  And, maybe, this is the radical part of Paul’s message to us, as well.

To love like Christ loved the church is an immense task to be given.  Christ who, for us, left heaven for earth, was born into a poor carpenter’s family, lived among sinners, was tempted, was insulted, was tortured, was killed.  Christ’s love is sacrificial love.  Paul instructs, in Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8, ESV

Though He is God, he humbled himself and gave everything for the church.  This is what is Scripture calls for in marriage.

Why don’t we talk about this this in church?  We love to preach submission and authority and headship, yet somehow we miss out on the whole Christ-like love thing.

Maybe because loving someone like Christ loved the church is anything but easy.  It means sacrificing everything for another’s well-being.

We are selfish, and love is hard.

After All

It shouldn’t have been that difficult, nor that frightening.

Why should I be afraid to volunteer to speak a ten minute message to 40 classmates?

When the professor asked for people to consider volunteering, I knew that it was my time to speak.

Yet I was afraid.  I was afraid that I was not worthy.  I was afraid that I would preach heresy.  I was afraid that it wasn’t God’s will for me.  And, most of all, I was afraid that my classmates would not support me and would not be willing to hear me.

After all, I had heard all the only-half-joking comments during my Homiletics course of the previous semester:

“Yeah, the guys are preaching after the girls so they can fix their theology.”

After all, I had heard the sermons from male preachers about where God has determined that females belong – and it definitely isn’t behind a pulpit.

After all, I had heard my pastor tell me that he never feels comfortable listening to a female preacher:

“It just feels wrong.”

In the face of these fears, I reminded myself of the Godly women who spoke before –

Esther risked her life to approach the king on behalf of her people.

Deborah was a prophetess, a judge, a counselor, and completely capable of leading a nation into battle.

Huldah prophesied destruction and was heard by the king.

The women who discovered Jesus’ resurrection declared the good news despite not being believed.

– women who spoke truth with courage and calling.

I reminded myself that I was not given a voice so that I could stay silent.  I am the bearer of an important message, and I will speak it.

So I walked straight from the classroom to the professor’s office.

“I would like to volunteer to speak to the class on the last day.”

He was excited.  He called me “Pastor Hannah.”  He expressed confidence that I would proclaim truth with boldness and accuracy.

When many of my classmates found out, they were surprised.  The girls expressed that  they thought it was very brave of me.

Less than half the class showed up on the day that I spoke.  Some quite clearly didn’t want to hear it from me.  But at the same time, many people heard my message, took it to heart, and encouraged me to continue speaking truth boldly.

After all, there is hope.

Wanted

I keep hearing [the pastor’s] example in my head: “Unwrapped chocolate bar – who’s gonna want an unwrapped chocolate bar?”

That’s so degrading, to equate a human being to a chocolate bar.  A chocolate bar, that you can buy for a dollar.

She is not property.  She is not an object.  She valuable, much more valuable than a chocolate bar.

Then there’s the issue of saying that her entire worth is based on her virginity.  There’s the issue of saying that no one will be able to want her simply because someone had sex with her.

Who would want her if she’s no longer a virgin?  Jesus would.

Was it not Christ who spent his time with the tax collectors and the prostitutes? Was it not God in the flesh who looks out for even the least of us?

Therefore any Christ-like man will see her the way that Jesus does: as someone who is so much more than the number of times she’s had sex, who is so much  more than her height or weight, who is so much more than just another woman.

She is a child of God: forgiven, loved, and wanted.

Treat her that way.

How To Be a Godly Woman

I hate all these lists of what a Godly woman is.  It’s as though, if you want to be Godly, you must accomplish this list of things – a list that usually includes a skewed version of Proverbs 31 in which she is nothing more than a housewife, not the picture of an extraordinarily entrepreneurial woman that Proverbs 31 really paints.

Honestly?  I find it ridiculous and insulting, especially when it is females who propagate it and who buy into it.

My worth is not based on an inaccurate list of characteristics that are impossible to achieve for many woman, anyways.

Here is my list of what a Godly woman looks like:

1. A Godly woman loves God and loves people (Luke 10:27).

As you can see, there is no long list of 10+ things that you must do to be a Godly woman.  Godliness is not defined by those.

A woman’s Godliness is not determined by her relationship status, nor by her fertility.

A woman’s Godliness is not determined by her position of leadership.

A woman’s Godliness is not determined by her calling.

A woman’s Godliness is not determined by how loud or quiet she is.

Christianity is not based on works.  Works will follow as we love God; the same goes for qualities such as the fruit of the Spirit.

Don’t be fooled.  Love God.  Love people.  That’s all you need to do.