Over my history in ministry I have listened as my youth pastor friends lamented their bad relationships with their senior pastors all the time feeling a little bad because I had such a good relationship with them. Part of the reason I have enjoyed good working relationships with my pastors is that I figured out some key things early on in my career that helped me connect and gain the respect of my elder colleagues in ministry.
Though I know most of these are not rocket science, I know that the easiest things to understand can often be the most difficult to live out (like love God and love your neighbor as yourself). These are seven things I have discovered over the years that senior pastors want from their youth pastors.
1. Be the innovative, cool adult
I mean every word there. One of the things that senior pastors need is people who come from a different culture or peer group, who are not as entrenched in church culture to help them think outside of the box. They need people who they know are trying to help them succeeded by offering innovative ideas in meetings and in private.
Unless you are Louis Giglio, the older you get, the more difficult it becomes for you to recognize what appears lame and cheesy to younger people. Senior pastors need people to help them stay on the cool side of the cheese line.
Most importantly, they are hiring an adult because they need someone who will make hard decisions that are unpopular with students. They need someone who acts like an adult with parents and gains their respect through responsibility and caring about their kids. If you find yourself acting as a peer to the teens rather than an adult, you have entered the danger zone. They have plenty of peers, they need a caring, loving, Godly adult, and that is the role your senior pastor is wanting you to fill.
2. Care for members’ kids
The fact that your pastor asks why the chair of the board’s child doesn’t attend is not an indication that he is spineless or that she is “just about the numbers.” They are shepherds ministering to the flock God has entrusted to them. Please reach out to new people and make new contacts, but don’t ignore the students of the people who are attending. I often explain it like this. If a long-term friend and new acquaintance both went into the hospital, you would definitely visit the long-term friend, but may or may not visit the acquaintance. That is because you have invested in the relationship with that friend and they depend on you in times of need. It’s the same at church.
3. Over communicate
Use every method. Text, mail, website, Facebook, Instagram, phone calls, etc. to get the word out. And do it early… more on that later. When you communicate, remember that the people who most care about the details and are most responsible for keeping up with them are the adults. So, communicate to them with a cool Claire, not the other way around. If you want to really rock the relationship with your senior pastor, place a printed copy of anything your mail out on her desk. As long as they are all consistent, both you and your pastor can rest assured that not knowing about your most recent event is a fault on the side of the parishioner rather than the youth ministry team.
4. Plan Consistently
Consistency is huge. You don’t need to cancel anything with less than two weeks notice except in the case of a personal or natural disaster. People showing up and seeing something was cancelled or changed kills attendance and parental trust. The simple rule here is to follow the adult church schedule and deviate only with lots of notice and extra communication.
Consistency goes beyond schedule changes. The real confidence builder is when you can have consistency in your planning. You do not need to be planning your retreat the weekend before, nor should you be deciding on an activity one week out. Here are a couple of simple rules. Stay a month ahead on topics and plans for your weekly events. For big things like camps and trips, plan your dates, location, and price six months ahead and give details three months ahead. If you do this, parents will feel confident that things are well thought through.
5. Support your pastor
Period. If you have differences with decisions they are making or feel you are a better preacher, leader, or fundraiser, keep that between you and your pastor (or just you). Though most mature adults see the value of criticism, it is most effective when done in private while public support is being maintained.
Don’t get me wrong. If there is moral failure, abuse, etc., you may need to speak out, but 99% of the time, the pattern is private meeting surrounded by public support.
6. Offers a heads up
No one wants to be blindsided by the fact that the visiting sixth grader broke their arm during a game of amoeba the night before. The simple rule here is that if you think your senior pastor might be mad, embarrassed, or upset when they find out, it’s best to tell them yourself as a heads up. They will feel prepared and may even defend you instead of muttering “I don’t know, I’ll have to check” though angry teeth.
7. Learn from them
I have rarely met a senior pastor who did not have life experience to share and also a desire to share it. They have a passion for the kingdom and want to further the movement of Christianity. You are the future and are shaping the future leaders of the church. If you haven’t already scheduled a meeting to learn from them, do it now. I promise, if you are truly open to learning, you will be glad you did.
Like I said, it’s not rocket science, but taking time to develop a great relationship with your pastor will not only make your life easier, but increase your effectiveness as you experience the ministry blessing of a supporting, engaged senior pastor.