Several years ago, I wrote an open letter to senior/lead pastors regarding things their youth pastors wished they would remember about youth ministry during the summer. At the time, I was serving as a full-time youth pastor as well as being highly active in district NYI leadership.
Now, however, I’m no longer a youth pastor, but I still stand behind that letter. I pastor a wonderful Midwest church that allows me to remain connected to youth in a meaningful way. I’ve tried to establish leadership practices that help me remember what it was like to serve as a staff or youth pastor. Having worn both hats, I’d like to suggest four helpful practices for working with the pastor that supervises you.
That the need to find effective means of communication with your pastor sits atop this list should be no surprise. For a team to function efficiently, knowing what the other members are doing is a must. Good communication promotes effectiveness and efficiency while helping to prevent frustration. However, remembering these few suggestions will help:
- Don’t assume your pastor prefers to communicate the same way as you do. Seek to understand their preferred communication methods and adapt to them.
- Remember that the written word often fails to communicate the rich nuances of face-to-face communication. In written communication, much is left up to interpretation. Don’t send a text or an email about a weighty issue. At the very least, a phone call would be appropriate, but an in-person conversation would be better.
- Sometimes you may be unable to fully respond to your pastor because you’re trying to be fully present with your students. In such situations, you might suggest establishing a procedure. Agree that when you’re with your family “off the clock” or with your students at lunch or on a trip, you’ll respond with a quick text saying that you’ll get back to them when you’re done.
Some pastors are more laid back than others. Some pastors handle surprises with grace; others do not. Regardless of which camp your pastor is in, do your very best to share your schedule with him or her. Be quick to inform your pastor when things change unexpectedly. Of course, be discerning regarding what changes to communicate .
Build a healthy relationship
Again, this one may seem like common sense. As much as possible, develop a relationship with your pastor outside regular church activities. You could plan to share a meal, play disc golf or table tennis, or do something creative like crocheting or making jewelry. Whatever it is, make sure it allows you both to open up relational space so you can get to know and love each other better.
If you serve a larger church with multiple staff, this one might be harder for you to do with the lead pastor. If that’s the case, seek to build a healthy relationship with the pastor to whom you report.
Celebrate the Wins, Lament the Losses
One of the things I love about youth ministry is the regularity with which you can see dramatic transformations in students’ lives. On the less dramatic side, small victories are won almost daily when you see a concept grasped for the first time or the smile on the face of that perpetually dejected student. Make sure you communicate to your pastor both the wins and the small victories you see in your students’ lives.
As important as it is to celebrate the wins you see, bring your pastor into your times of lament when things don’t go as you had hoped. Even if your pastor is “successful,” he or she is intimately acquainted with the painful losses of ministry. Lamenting the losses together will help develop solidarity in ministry. It might also open up space for the Spirit to work in your life, helping you discern what might be learned from those painful situations.
At the root of these four practices is striving toward healthy relationships. As ministers, we’re called to embody relationships with others that are defined by God’s love instead of following some corporate business practices. When we give ourselves in selfless love to each other, we grow closer to each other and to God. And when that happens, we are better able to lead our churches toward Christlikeness.