Fresh out of graduate school and looking like I had just graduated from high school, I jumped into a church staff role as director of children’s ministry. I had the education, the prior internship, and the experience working with kids. I was ready to make an impact. But I forgot to consider one thing: the assumption that because I didn’t have kids, I couldn’t possibly relate to parents. Women leaders are already more likely to have their authority and expertise questioned in ministry settings. On top of that, people perceived me as not having experience with kids because I wasn’t a mom. How could I minister effectively when others questioned me?
It’s often true that those who have experienced something firsthand have the best knowledge of it. But that premise is problematic when we assume that those who don’t have firsthand experience can’t possibly understand. For me, this translated into the idea that only parents understand children. While this may be true in some respects (after all, only a parent knows what it’s like to go into work after staying up all night with a teething child), it’s not always true. For instance, I didn’t need to be a parent to understand the emotional and spiritual needs of children.
Maybe you’ve experienced this as a young person who’s leading older adults, or as a married woman leading a single moms group. Regardless of your circumstances, it’s frustrating when your authority or expertise is challenged simply because you haven’t had the same life experiences as the people in your ministry. When that happens, I’ve found the following tips to be helpful.
1. Name the source of your inner struggle.
My deepest desire to care for these children was rejected when I heard from parents that I simply couldn’t understand. Naturally, as working women in churches, we want to nurture and support all those around us. Regardless of context, being a leader involves pastoring because we each shepherd the flock given to us. When the flock thinks you will never be able to understand, however, it takes an emotional toll. Over time, I started to resent parents who assumed this about me, but I knew that would only hinder building a relationship with them, so I worked to release that resentment. Take the time to know how you may or may not be emotionally triggered by others questioning your authority, and figure out a way to handle it in healthy ways. For me, finding a Christian counselor has helped tremendously. Figure out what you need to do to guard your heart in this matter.