Disclaimer: Hey pal! Before you read, please understand this: in no way am I throwing hate, disdain, or “shade” at anyone or any group of people. I am simply wanting to share my experience and what God has taught me through it. Happy reading! :)
In the summertime, you can find me where the average youth worker is located—at church camp. This is where I was in in June of 2015. At this camp, everyone got separated into groups and met each other briefly on the first day. My group had met that morning, and we were supposed to meet again for an evening worship service. Myself and another woman in the group were the first ones to arrive for the service. As we were trying to find a place to sit, my groupmate said, “I sure hope our group doesn’t have trouble finding us!”
“Well, I’m the only black girl at this camp…so I don’t think it’ll be too hard.”
While I was just trying to be funny, my words were in fact pretty true. (Although, I found out later there was another woman of color serving that year, as well.)
As a woman working in youth ministry, situations such as this have become pretty common. However, not only have I found myself being one of a few individuals of color in most settings, but also at times, just one of a few women. Sometimes being the only woman. Sometimes being the only woman of color.
Allow me to be honest. There have been times where I have felt like I’ve had two strikes against me. Being a woman and being black. This has led to insecurity, doubt, and at times feeling like I don’t fit in. Sadly, this has also involved moments of feeling ignored or passed over simply because of the fact that I am different from everyone else. While I wish I could say that these things don’t creep up every time I find myself at a youth ministry gathering, I can say that there is so much that the Lord is beginning to teach me in moments where I feel like those two strikes against me stand out much more than I’d like them to. Let me share a few of those things with you:
1. God Made Me Who I Am and He Put Me Where I Am
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that God is not surprised when I walk into a room full of youth pastors and not too many of them look like I do. I have found myself thinking that maybe I am in the wrong profession. That there’s a possibility that since I stand out from the crowd, I might not be where I am supposed to be.
But that’s not true.
God created every part of me. He made me a woman. He created me with brown skin. He also gave me the desire to minister to students and help them to know Jesus.
Youth ministry is not a profession reserved solely for one type of person. It is for those that have a heart for students. If God has called me to it, that’s what matters. And that is exactly what matters in those moments I find myself in the minority.
2. Walk Boldly and Speak Confidently
Anytime I’d find myself in a conversation with other youth pastors I would sit quietly, not adding much to the conversation. Even if it was a discussion that I knew I could (and should) contribute to, I’d hide behind the excuse of, “I’m just here to listen and learn.”
However, God reminded me that He has given me a voice. He has given me a calling and I must trust Him and walk confidently in it. I had to stop feeling like I couldn’t speak up because of who I was, but instead, speak out because of Whose I was. I had to find boldness and move forward with confidence in the abilities God had given me.
3. Bridge the Gap
Want to hear something amazing?
Female youth ministers exist.
Want to hear something else that is equally amazing?
Youth pastors of color exist.
So, if that’s true, why is it that only a handful of us seem to be showing up at camps, retreats, and other youth ministry events?
I can’t speak for every state, culture, and context, but I can speak for my area. In my hometown alone there are so many awesome females and individuals of color making moves in the Kingdom of God when it comes to student ministry. Yet for some reason, God has allowed me to walk into places where diversity is scarce. Why is this? Because I’m better? Because I’m special? Because I’ve somehow got an upper hand?
No, no, and no.
I truly believe that it is to bridge the gap and to begin making space at the table for others. To let them know that they are called and seen.
Diversity and inclusion should never be made an idol, but the importance of those two things should remind us that we are all made in the image of God and called by Him to spread the Gospel regardless of whether we are male or female, and despite our color. To break down walls, cross lines, beat down barriers and love one another. The Gospel is for everyone and is to be shared by every person that follows Jesus Christ.
It’s time to start making room at the table.
While I am extremely thankful that God is using this all to teach me so much, I am also incredibly grateful to have met so many amazing youth workers who looked beyond my outward appearance and walked alongside me, reminding me that I am seen by them, just as I am seen by God.
My prayer is that I can do that very same thing for others as the table of youth ministry begins to add more chairs.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” -Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)
“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)