Gender doesn't matter to youth

Youth ministry is not a job for the faint of heart!

Thousands of men and women minister to 'tweens and teens every week, helping these young, impressionable people develop relationships with them, each other and God.

Only about 30 percent of professional (salaried) youth ministers in the United States are women.

Betsy Marvin, director of high school and young adult ministry at Cornerstone Church, a United Methodist congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been in her position for 20 years, a lifetime in the youth ministry world.

"I have worked with students for my whole life," Marvin said with a laugh. "I have a teaching degree and have loved high school students forever."

Marvin did not intentionally begin a career in youth ministry.

"I didn't realize youth ministry was even a real profession until my pastor asked me to help," she said. "I started out working about five hours a week and loved it. Eventually, it became a full-time job."

Angela Renee Johnson, youth minister at Lithia Springs (Georgia) United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation campus minister at Georgia State University, did not start out with that career in mind either.

The mass communications major said she planned to be "the next Oprah Winfrey, but God had a different set of plans for me, directing me to serve in the local church."

Her campus minister at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, encouraged her to take a summer youth job. She served at two United Methodist churches in South Carolina.

That was eight years ago, and she is still serving and ministering to youth and college students.

A move to the United States from Zimbabwe in 2000 with her husband and children led the Rev. Adlene Kufarimai to youth ministry.

She leads the work at Glen Addie, a United Methodist mission church in Anniston, Alabama.

'Most of all, they want us to listen'

"Honestly, I can't say I was really pursuing youth ministry when I came," Kufarimai said. "But in 2012, when I was working toward my ordination, I came to Glen Addie. We are in a very poor community. I didn't like what I saw happening in the youth ministry, so I volunteered to help; no appointment, just as a volunteer."

The district liked the changes they saw happen with her involvement in the church's youth ministry and gave her an appointment as the youth minister.

"Now I am an elder, but in June, I will (transition to) deacon," she said.

Judy Orecchio was an elementary school teacher 33 years ago when she agreed to lead a confirmation class for the youth at Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver.

"I always said I would never work with anyone over the third grade," she said. "Well, God has a way of changing things."

Orecchio never went back to the young children.

All of these women recognize they are in the minority as female youth ministers, but agree it is not an issue to their youth.

"I don't think it matters one bit to the youth," Marvin said. "They just want someone who loves them and thinks they matter."

People sometimes view youth ministry as activity-centric at the expense of discipleship, but Johnson disagrees.

"Of course, it's important for the kids to have fun with us and each other, but that's not why I'm here," she said. "I use different curricula with them. I use the lectionary. Right now, I'm doing 10-minute talks with a Scripture and a discussion. I encourage my youth to take responsibility for leadership. Social media and music are huge parts of their world, so we bring that in."

Marvin added, "We are going back to having parents step up as being the primary teachers for their kids. We want to equip them with tools to do that."

Kufarimai said, "It's important to remember that most of all, they want us to listen to them. They want to know someone is hearing them."

Polly House is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.