By Chris Wilterdink
In a recent survey of 155 youth pastors who left their job due to burnout, over 42% of youth pastors listed “pastor difficult to get along with” as one of their reasons for leaving. In that same survey, of the over 200 youth pastors who were fired from their job, nearly 49% stated they left over a “conflict with pastor.” Youth pastors who want to remain in ministry for the long-haul must take active steps in growing in a healthy relationship with their senior pastor. I recently interviewed several youth pastors along with their senior pastors. From these interviews as well as my own experience, I have come up with 9 keys to building a healthy relationship with your pastor.
- Get to know your pastor. Spend some time with your pastor. Learn about his hobbies, interests, and family. Ask your senior pastor to share stories of his past ministry successes and struggles. Ask your pastor to share his vision for the church. Where does he see the church in five years? How does he see the church ministering both within and outside the church walls now and into the future? Discuss with your pastor how he sees youth ministry fitting into this overall church vision.
- Develop a mission. If you do not work to develop a mission for the youth ministry, you will be tempted to follow the latest fad in ministry. Currently on my bookshelf are the following books on models of youth ministry: Contemplative Youth Ministry, Sustainable Youth Ministry, Relational Youth Ministry, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, Youth Ministry 3.0, Authentic Youth Ministry, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry, and Family-Based Youth Ministry. Without a clear mission that is contextualized for your particular setting, you may be tempted to blindly adopt one of these models as your own without question or adaptation. Each of these books and models holds value. However, the real value is in reading these books through the lens of a clearly defined mission. You can then glean knowledge and new perspectives to incorporate within your already established mission.
- Communicate clearly and regularly. Clearly and regularly are both words that can mean very different things to different people. The best way to know what your pastor expects from you in clear and regular communication is to ask her. For example, my supervisor expects me to email him a weekly update. This is a short bullet-pointed email that highlights tasks I completed and projects I am working on. Outside of regular check-in times, be sure to keep your pastor informed of situations that occur so she can prepare and respond appropriately Senior pastors do not like surprises. A few years ago a parent called me while on our way home from a retreat. She informed me that the police would be waiting in the parking lot of the church to arrest me when I returned because I had taken her daughter across state lines without permission. Knowing the father had custody, I called him for advice. He told me not to worry, that he has all the legal paperwork and that she was only trying to scare me to get to him. The next person I called was my pastor. I told him that he may hear stories on Sunday of police cars in the parking lot and filled him in as to why. When we arrived at the church, there were two police cars. After a brief conversation with the father, they shook hands and left. Imagine I had not told the pastor the story and if he was blindsided Sunday morning by some third-hand information of police breaking up the youth group’s arrival from the retreat! Finally, communicate in your pastor’s preferred form. If she prefers email, send most of your communication in that medium. If she likes face-to-face meetings, do your best to make yourself available for regular face time.
- Get your pastor involved in the ministry. Plan ahead to with your pastor to have him be a part of a regular programming time. This will allow the pastor time to prepare anything that you are expecting him to do and to plan around other meetings or family obligations. Set your pastor up to succeed. Many pastors I talk to feel disconnected, irrelevant, and unsure around youth. Include your pastor in ways that play to his strengths and gifts so that he can be relaxed and connect best with the youth. (At least at first. You can push him out of his comfort zone once he is more comfortable around the youth!)
- Be professional. Do not leave what Mark Devries calls “monkey droppings” on your pastors desk. These are things that you did not follow through on that now are dumped on the pastor to deal with. This could be failing to clean up the kitchen after a lock-in only to have the mess discovered by the woman’s garden club or cramming 25 kids into a 15 passenger van and driving to a football game where several church members see you unload the mass of kids into the parking lot of the school.
- Build up your trust account. Think of trust as money. Just as you have a bank account, you have a trust account. You must continually make deposits into your trust account with your pastor. Completing a project on time, returning from a retreat safely, or filling in well by leading liturgy on a Sunday are all deposits into the trust account. Erase the phrase “It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission” from your vocabulary. This depletes trust. At some point, you are going to have to make a withdrawal. You are going to have a situation where you are going to need to say to your pastor “Trust me.” If you have built up your trust account, you will have enough funds available for your pastor to allow for a withdrawal.
- Support your pastor publically. Senior pastors are easy targets and are often dodging shots. Your pastor needs to know you are not giving people bullets. Always speak positively of your pastor to youth, parents, and other church members. Be your pastor’s biggest cheerleader. Do not vent about your pastor to church members or seek to get people on your side when you are in a disagreement with your pastor. Handle all disagreements and conflicts in private.
- Take Soul Care seriously. Your first priority as a minister, is continue to grow in your relationship with God and strengthen your faith. Find ways to refill your spiritual and emotional well. The biggest and most dangerous mistakes are made when a person is spiritually drained. Most pastors can get over a failing in skills but ones in character and morals are hard to overcome. No one else is going to do this for you. Take time for retreat, worship, prayer, or just for a walk in the park on a sunny day. Do those things that restore you.
- Remember your pastor is human. Your pastor will have bad days. He will be tired. His family has dysfunction. He will make mistakes. Do not place unrealistic expectations on your pastor. You wouldn’t want her to do this to you. We are all sinners and fall short. Drench your pastor with grace. We all need it, and we all must give it.
From: www.umcyoungpeople.org web site. April 2016.
The above article, “Keys to a Healthy Youth Pastor-Senior Pastor Relationship” was written by Chris Wilterdink. The article was excerpted from www.umcyoungpeple.com.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”