I always felt like the odd (wo)man out in Youth Ministry circles. First, there’s the gender thing. Super fun to be in the “regional” youth ministry gatherings that are basically a bro fest. (Even more fun when you’re serving in a conservative area and several of the guys in the group aren’t sure if they are allowed to talk to you for fear of…sin apparently?) But that’s just part of our reality.
Second…I’m not the typical Youth Pastor. I’m the worst at leading games and I don’t make fart jokes. I have a Bachelor’s in Youth Ministry and I got straight A’s through college. I’m a high-achiever and a perfectionist, so it wasn’t unusual for me to throw out a perfectly good paper and pull an all-nighter to rewrite it. For most of my classmates…that wasn’t the norm. What’s the stereotype of a Youth Pastor? Disorganized, messy, late… Even my professors would shrug and say something to the effect of “What are you going to do? They’re going to be Youth Pastors!” as they extended countless deadlines and offered generous curves to my classmates. I remember feeling both embarrassed by my high-achieving nature and quietly enraged that my peers weren’t being held to the same standard. Sometimes I wondered if I misunderstood my calling.
I’m an Enneagram 1 with a 2 wing. From the Enneagram Institute:
Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.
- Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
- Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced
- Enneagram One with a Nine-Wing: “The Idealist”
- Enneagram One with a Two-Wing: “The Advocate”
Mars Hill church (the Rob Bell one, not the Mark Driscoll one!) describes the 1w2 this way in their Exegy curriculum: caring and personal, balance their ideals with the needs of those around them, mix objectivity with empathy, get into the trenches to bring about changes they desire, idealism with an interpersonal focus, often involved in public causes, when unhealthy they can have tendencies towards perfectionism and self-importance, prone to anger and resentment when others do not follow their ideals…
I’m not crazy. I’m not the odd (wo)man out. I’m an Advocate. Here’s why it makes sense that I’m a Youth Pastor:
- I’m not afraid of change.
In every church I’ve served, I have always tried to consider the strengths and needs of the church, the leadership, and the surrounding community as I structured the Youth Ministry program. One church did an incredible job matching Confirmation students with mentors who attended every class with them for two years! These mentor relationships were a huge strength, so we built our high school ministry around them. Our high schoolers were scattered, overscheduled, and the attendance was dismal outside of Sunday mornings (unlike my middle schoolers at that time who would show up to watch paint dry at the church!). I reconnected our high schoolers with their mentors, gave them a simple curriculum and asked them to meet a couple times a month. At the end of every month we had a pizza party for students and mentors to connect with the larger group. That was a BIG change for our church and I took a LOT of heat for it. But it was a change I believed in and a change that I felt would be best for our students in the long run (hello Sticky Faith!).
- I’m ordained to compassion.
Not long after college, I began pursuing my M.Div in Spiritual Formation–full-time classwork plus full-time ministry. Never, never again–I cried into my bowl of Cheerios as I translated Hebrew passages after Youth Group on Sunday nights. ANYWAY, after graduating, I became ordained in the United Methodist Church as a Deacon. The UMC ordains two types of clergy: Elders and Deacons. Elders are (generally) only senior pastors and they are itinerant. Deacons serve inside and outside the church, and they do not itinerate. A Deacon could be a nurse, a social worker, a public health advocate, a Christian educator, or really anything! We are ordained to Word, Service, Compassion and Justice. Yep, the UMC has some issues, but how amazing is it that they literally ordain people to Compassion and Justice?! Compassion has always been my strong suit, and where else are compassion and empathy needed more than working with hurting teenagers?
- I have a passion for justice.
There are a lot of ways to describe justice, but often I think of it as fairness or a leveled playing field. Teenagers are awesome at noticing injustice in their world and they are ballsy enough to think they could do something about it! I think this is one of the reasons mission trips are still so popular–teenagers believe they can make a difference in the world. (Insert lots of asterisks here related to “When Helping Hurts”, but you get my point.) Why wouldn’t I want to work with a generation who wants to actively change their world? The tough side of being a 1w2 is that I get frustrated when there is no change. It has grieved me so much over the years to see parents who just can’t see their teenager’s lovable nature…which leads me to this:
- I have a dark side.
We all have one. And mine manifests itself in becoming overly critical of everything–the world, the church, my leaders, my pastor, myself, and even my students. I tend to see failure when I don’t see overwhelmingly obvious success. Success is such a nebulous thing in youth ministry anyway; trying to “be successful” is really our Achille’s heel in this profession. So whereas my college papers and seminary assignments had a clear rubric for success, youth ministry truly does not and that’s where the dark side of being a One can make my life pretty miserable. Those are the moments where I want to throw in the towel, declare that I really am the odd (wo)man out, and take my place on the sidelines. But those are precisely the moments I am learning to choose to keep serving the world, keep loving students, and keep trusting God and the call God has placed on my life. The flip side of my perfectionism is truly a desire to please and honor God with all that I am, and if I remember that God is developing the “rubric”, not me, then I am so much more free! And God’s is a rubric of grace and love–and I know I can give all that I am to that cause!