Youth Ministry and Marriage: It’s A Man’s World
This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl
- James Brown from his song A Man’s World
To be honest, this is how I have often felt as a female youth worker on staff in a church. In my home country of The Netherlands, paid youth workers aren’t that common anyway, but the ones that exist are for the most part men. It’s not easy being a married woman and a youth worker, I can say from experience. Let me share a little bit of my story.
In our last church, the youth pastor left quite suddenly and because there seemed to be no one else, my husband took over the operational leadership of the youth ministry. We quickly discovered it wasn’t his thing… but as it turned out, it was mine and we changed roles.
The year after the church asked me to become responsible for the youth ministry and I did. Our youth group grew and so did my responsibilities, as did the amount of hours it took to do it right. I worked full-time in a managing position in a hospital, but decided to cut back on my hours to invest more time in the youth ministry. I ended up working 24 hours in the hospital and about the same in the youth ministry. And then I became pregnant with our son.
I told the church that they had to make a choice: they had to either put me on staff or I would have to quit because there was no way I’d be able to keep going like this and have a baby. The church had vision for a paid youth worker so they decided to put me on staff. My son was 6 months old when I started.
It’s been really tough on my marriage, that period. My husband worked a day job, I worked a lot of nights and weekends. Added to that, we had the care of our wonderful, but time-consuming son. We ended up sharing quick meals and hasty conversations. That became even worse when he had to quit his volunteer position in the youth ministry to focus on getting his PhD. We hardly saw each other anymore. It was tough on both of us, and definitely tough on our marriage. We constantly had fights, irritations ran high.
After a year and a half, I became seriously ill. Not life-threatening, but enough to really make me think. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do everything: be a good mom, a loving and caring wife, a good caretaker of our home and a great youth leader. My husband was exhausted as well, because he had to pick up a lot of my tasks when I wasn’t around. It was too much.
After much prayer, I decided to quit. As it turned out, I would have had to anyway because my husband got a job in Germany and we had to move. But my decision to quit came solely out of the necessity of putting my family and my marriage before my youth ministry.
It’s tough, being a female married youth worker on staff. I think the big difference is that most of the guys who do this have a wife who either works part time or doesn’t work at all, where as us women mostly have a husband who works full-time. That’s two people working full time with very different schedules. And when you add young kids to the picture, it becomes an almost impossible combination, at least it was for me.
I think it’s different when your kids are older, when they are in school and need less supervision. But even then you’d have to be very careful to balance family life and work. I think married female youth workers face unique challenges in this area… which are understandable, but still a shame because I think youth ministry could benefit from more female staff.
What helped me decide in the end is that being a mom and a wife are more important to me than being a (paid) youth leader. I had to scale back my role in youth ministry to protect my family and my marriage. And even now, two years later, I am still convinced it was the right thing to do.