At twenty-three, after a year of job searching, I finally found a position in the field that I wanted: I became a Jr. High youth pastor. But when I started, in addition to thinking about what most new youth pastors think about (like what their first teaching series is going to be or what small group curriculum they would use), I also was unexpectedly faced with this question:
What was I going to wear?
Not because I am a fashionista or super image conscious, but rather because all the other youth pastors I knew or met, where men. “What does a female youth pastor wear?” I wondered. I had just come from a more business-type job where I wore dress pants and button up shirts–which I definitely wasn’t going to wear working with students. I also felt this weird pull not to dress too feminine, so that I could try to fit in with my male co-workers, and be taken seriously. Soon, I began to realize my concern went a lot deeper than the clothes I wore, and that the real question of my heart was:
What does it look like to be a woman in this job?
I had no other examples. More important than what I wore, part of my job included giving a message to the students on a regular basis. I was really new to the public speaking part, yet I soon realized my teaching style as a woman, was going to be different than my male co-workers. I tried to find women preachers/speakers to learn from. Sadly, many of the examples I found preached in a deeper voice and took on a similar style as their male counterparts. As if there is really only one way to preach; speak like a man. But my heart knew that wasn’t right.
God made me a woman for a reason, and I was in that position to bring something to our students that I wouldn’t bring if I was spending my time trying to lead, speak, and dress like my male colleagues.
They say “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” but what they are talking about is more than just clothes. In essence, they are saying if you want the job, “act the part.” But because there are few examples of what it looks like to be women in certain professions, we can at times feel pressure to change our style of leadership–to “act the part”–and match the style of the men who have gone before us. Yet when we do this, we are committing a disservice to ourselves and the companies we work for.
During my seven years as a female youth pastor I learned that:
- Showing my femininity, didn’t make me a lesser leader; it made me a more approachable one.
- When I taught/spoke from my most authentic female self, student’s responded the most.
- When I started dressing in a style that reflected who I am as a woman, I felt freer to be myself as I did my job.
- Figuring out who I was as a women leader was not just important for myself, but for all those I was leading–both female and male.
If we have the passion or burden inside of us to lead, we are not only responsible to pursue it for ourselves, we also are called to become the examples for the women who are to come.