*This post originally appeared in 2009. It has been updated with content and media for relevancy today.
I don’t think it probably took very long for you to see some of these behaviors that hens do, lived out in the way women nurture. Women are nurturers. However, nurturing can become territorial and competitive very quickly.
Understanding a little bit about what goes on in a chicken pen may give us some insight into why sometimes there are bickerings and quarreling that may arise between leaders of girls. Especially when there are several different layers of leadership.
In our church we have Lifegroups leaders, we have Sunday school teachers, Sunday School mentors, Student Peer leaders, Highschool girl mentors to middle school, Student Ministry Staff, and many volunteers leaders. In the midst of these layers of leadership, there is often overlapping in nurturing that happens. Nurturing and raising chicks is what a hen is supposed to do. Read below from a segment I discovered regarding aggressive poultry and see if you can find possible similarities in girls ministry that points to toxic nurturing.
Aggressive Chicken by Katie Thear
The pecking order is a well-defined hierarchical pattern of behaviour that manifests in flocks. There is a ‘top bird’ to which the rest will defer, often giving way at the food container or generally getting out of the way. The top bird is often a cock, but in the absence of a male, an old hen may hold the position. She may continue to hold sway even if there is a male, if he happens to be young and nervous. The pecking order extends downwards (just as it does in human societies), with the weakest having to survive as best as they can, dodging the onslaughts of the more powerful. The pecking order may also extend sideways, with a previously untouched bird being attacked if, for example, it becomes ill or sustains a wound that attracts the unwanted attention of the other birds.
Where new birds are introduced to an existing flock, there are always problems because the natural pecking order is disrupted. A hen spotting a newcomer will utter a single warning croak that alerts the rest of the flock. It then becomes fair game to peck at and chase away the stranger.
God created women specifically to have an amazing ability to nurture. It’s something we do naturally. It’s not a bad thing. Have you ever seen a hen gather her baby chicks under her wing? It’s a beautiful thing. It’s very natural and it makes sense. She is protective. She is taking care of that which was entrusted to her. Even Jesus uses this imagery when He speaks of how He wants to protect His children.
Matthew 23:37 how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
What does nurture technically mean?
to feed and protect: to nurture one’s offspring.
2. to support and encourage, as during the period of training or development; foster: to nurture promising musicians.
3. to bring up; train; educate.
These are all things that you would want to have in one who mentors or invests in the girls God has entrusted into your care. Unfortunately, sometimes women can develop a pecking order of their own when it comes to who gets to be close to certain girls in the ministry. It begins innocently enough with phrases like: “My girls told me this.”
But that phrase can become very toxic if the group of girls is poured into by more than one woman within the ministry. I have seen this happen especially in the presence of small groups. Small groups are so vital to growth but one con that I have observed in girls ministry is when the small groups become small territories of the leader.
So here are some things to remind small group leaders and yourself of as a new school year begins:
1. The girls in the girls ministry are always “someone else’s girl too” . They are daughters. They are granddaughters. They have other mentors than just you. AND THIS IS HEALTHY! Recent studies have shown that a cluster of mentors is even more healthy than just one mentor per child. So remember to share. Try not to use territorial words. “But she is MY girl”. When we use those words, it discredits the impact other women have had on this student and can be very hurtful.
2. Be aware of the tools you use to draw boundaries which cut other leaders off from influence:
a. information.— Withholding information from other leaders or the student minister may provide a moment of mentoring power, but in the longrun there are certain things that may need to be shared–especially if you have a girls ministry leader or youth minister involved.
b. experience.—reminding new leaders or new volunteers that you have been here longer and know what’s best for YOUR girls. If you have been around for a long time—great! I know that when I was a new leader in my church, I had several veterans take me aside and invite me into ministry with them instead of blocking me out. I’m not suggesting that there needs to be flat leadership when working with girls…there does need to ultimately be someone responsible for the strategic and intentional plan for nuturing girls—and when that is communicated, the rest of the leaders need to work together to minister to “OUR girls” that God has brought to the church.
3. As a girls minister, there are some things that can be done to create some healthy mixing among leaders and girls. We are trying to ensure that at events, we place groups of girls with different leaders than those they may have for a lifegroup or sunday school class. This provides them the opportunity to hear from another Godly woman how God has worked in and through them and to hear another teaching style.
4. Another leadership opportunity is to place a younger leader (either spiritually or physically) with an older leader. Let’s not forget that sometimes toxic nurturing is just evidence of some maturity opportunities. This is also helpful in ensuring that a group is not just identified with one woman. I had led a group of girls for 3 years but always brought in new leaders into the group to serve with me. This constantly helped me to “give the group away” to others. Because if we’re honest, we develop heart ties to girls we’ve poured into. I never wanted that to be destructive or a distraction. The last two years I was with the group I facilitated, I brought on two permanent leaders. It is extremely healthy to do that. If you do not have shared leadership in the groups you facilitate, I encourage you to begin moving toward this opportunity.
5. PRAY! This is not the last thing to do. This is the first thing to do. Pray that God will unify your leadership and if there is a root of pecking order or jealousy or territorism growing in the girls ministry you serve in, then ask first if it is in you. Pray that God will allow nurturing to be healthy and not toxic within you. Continue to find ways to include the first girls minister the girls have the opportunity to know—this is their mother. Sometimes mom’s do not know God…but if they do—they have the right to be that primary girls minister for their daughter. Let’s do everything we can to pray that they are involved and do not feel threatened by other mentors God may bring alongside of their daughter. I am thankful my mom allowed women to be my mentors and continues to celebrate women in my life that share things with me.
It is a blessing to love others. It is a blessing to serve others. When it becomes competitive then the motivation has become something other than Godly. Seek—Pray—and Ask God what that motivation may be so that it does not become toxic to those you are nurturing and serving with.Tweet