As part of our continuing series of profiles of women serving in youth ministry, we visit with Reverend Jenn Simmons. Jenn serves as asssociate minister with a Disciples of Christ congregation in St. Louis. Jenn graduated from Eden Theological Seminary where she received a Masters of Divinity and from Texas Christian University where she received a B.A. in religious studies. She has served in youth ministry positions in Texas, Illinois, and Missouri.
What do you find most enjoyable about your ministry with youth in the Church? Time and time again I am amazed by the creativity, honesty, and openness of the youth. Their ability to freely intermingle their lives with scripture texts creates spirit-filled moments in ministry. Moments that fill me with hope, assurance, and joy for our community.
I have the wonderful privilege to work with a team of gifted and passionate leaders. I serve with five other adults as part of a team of spiritual guides. These leaders share their faith and nurture and encourage the faith of our youth. They are companions on the journey with the youth. Working with a group of leaders who deeply care about their ministry with youth and serving with youth who are willing to be open and honest with one another is a wonderful gift.
What do you find most challenging about your ministry with youth in the Church? I have discovered that it is, at times, hard to get a firm commitment from youth and families. Youth are often busy with other family commitments, sports games, drama rehearsals, social obligations, and stuff comes up. This can be a challenge to prepare set numbers for events, lock-ins, and other activities that require advance sign-ups.
Another challenge in ministry with the youth can be the congregations’ engagement with the youth. Most congregations want a strong and vibrant youth ministry, but have difficulty connecting with and supporting the youth. I have discovered the importance of intergenerational events and helping the community to get to know one another.
What shifts or changes would you like to see in youth ministry in the next decade? While I embrace our technological age of facebook, twitter, and texting, I hope we can still find time to listen deeply to one another. In a world full of quick sound bites and quick texts, I think it will be even more valuable in the coming years to continue to have coffee together and sit down and listen to another. I have seen much hurt and pain over short texts or messages on facebook to one another. Youth need resources to help learn to communicate with one another and navigate difficult conversations in person.
I have seen an energy and momentum around prayer in youth groups. Youth often seem hungry for quiet moments of contemplation. I hope this shift in youth ministry from lots of activity to prayerful youth ministry continues to deepen.
What would you say to women who are considering a call to ministry with youth? Are there particular challenges or advantages to being a woman in this area of ministry? After a few months at one the churches I served, one member noted that she was glad to see someone mothering the youth. Men and women are often stereotyped. I doubt anyone ever said, “I am glad to see someone fathering the youth,” of my predecessors.
Women have often been typecast to work with children and youth. It is important to have both men and women who can help the youth see and understand different roles in the church working alongside the youth. Understanding the different roles of gender is important as it helps youth discover their own giftedness. May we be open to the different expressions of our gender and not be hindered by our cultures, at times, narrow boxes.