The next two blogs will look at the gifts, challenges and ministry opportunities that are presented when working with both genders.
1) Cliques. What female hasn’t been affected by them? At least once or twice a year or more, a middle school or high school girl will end up talking to me about how either life at school is unbearable because of cliques or how they feel left out by cliques (whether real or perceived) in the youth ministry program at Messiah. Sometimes it seems like girls (middle school girls especially) are a far cry from the nursery rhyme that says they are “sugar and spice and all things nice.” Several years of ministry at Messiah saw two very powerful cliques, lines that had been drawn and encouraged (by parents and by the youth) from middle school all the way through their senior high graduation.During events where girls from both cliques attended, it was almost always guaranteed that someone would feel left out, someone’s parent would call on Monday or someone from “one side” would throw down with someone from the “other side.”
So how do you create a space in your youth ministry where close relationships are encouraged, but cliques are not? How do you work with the girls who say, “we appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but nothing is going to change between Josie High Schooler and I, so maybe you should stop trying” (direct quote from a high school student)? How do you find the common denominator between the church school kids and the public school kids? The cool girls and the emo girls?
In the last few years of my ministry at Messiah, while at the time I was challenged with the two “super cliques,” I was blessed to have two girls in my youth group, J and A who seemed to be clique busters. They could go back and forth between each group and could draw the cliques together better than I could as their leader.
To some extent, I think that you have to let the cliques be cliques. Girls find identity and comfort in their groups, and the fact that friends are involved are the reason that they participate. However, when cliques become exclusive or catty, as girl cliques can sometimes be, there may need to be some intervention. Opportunity must also be taken to push girls out of their comfort zones through activities where they are paired up with someone they may not necessarily be in “their clique.” One place where we have had a lot of success with this is our family groups during the National Youth Gathering. We allow kids to stick with who their comfortable with for room assignments, but we divide them up into family groups where they will have to interact with others. That has always been a positive experience for the girls in the group because they’ve found common ground in an unusual setting.
2) Appearance: I will never forget my first NYG experience with the group of girls in my room and “Fluff.” Fluff was a just graduated senior who had gotten her nickname from adults in the past for her fastidious primping schedule…. Even on trips to camp. Fluff and friends required an inordinate amount of time to get ready in the morning. Straightening hair, make-up, outfit changes, and shoe changes. Being the kind of girl that requires only 20 minutes to get ready, I was shocked that these girls would sometimes wake up two hours before our required leaving time so they could be put together in time.
As the years progressed, the girls in the group have ranged from “fluff,” to girls who seem to be a little lower maintenance; however, appearance is still a huge issue. Fashion trends, friends, and social norms dictate how girls should be dressing, whether its appropriate or not. Girls without healthy body images or those who struggle with weight or health issues have to face a whole host of insecurities about who they are.
There are also girls in the group (particularly the middle schoolers) who are hyper aware of themselves and feel that everyone else is hyper aware of them too. There are 8th grade girls who refuse to join in our confirmation games because they “will make them look silly.”
The biggest way to combat insecurities about appearance is by being a good role model, or if you’re a male youth leader working with girls, finding confident female role models. Ones who aren’t afraid to get dirty on a servant event, sleep outdoors, act silly during a game and at the same time can model that there is more to life than appearance.
Girls are a great part of youth ministry. What other issues do girls face in ministry? We’ll revisit this during the next blog and discuss more!