I talk to youth leaders across the country, many of whom feel like their pastors aren’t fully behind their youth ministry efforts. Speaking as a former church planter and preaching pastor, here are a few tips that can help get your senior pastor on board with you and your youth ministry:
1. Pray for your pastor.
God has given you spiritual leaders at your church who are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Pray for them.
Pastors can be suffering secret spiritual attacks that nobody is aware of, and they need the people they work for and the staff they work with to consistently hold them up in prayer. Even the great apostle Paul asked the Ephesian believers to pray for him to be bold as he shared the Gospel. He wrote in Ephesians 6:19-20: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
Paul is admitting to the Ephesians that he struggled with nervousness and fear before he preached and needed them to hold him up in prayer. We should do the same for our pastors.
2. Build a youth ministry program worth getting on board with philosophically.
Sometimes pastors aren’t on board with their youth leaders because they don’t buy into their ministry philosophy. For many pastors, youth ministry can seem like just a mixture of sweaty games, goofiness, and occasional God talks.
Share with your pastor a vision for reaching every teenager in your community. Let your pastor hear, see, and sense your passion for helping every teenager in your group grow deep in Christ and go wide with His message. Then show them the programs you’re building that match this compelling vision. Check out Dare 2 Share for help with this.
When pastors see that you have a serious plan to transform the teenagers under your care and the teenagers in your community, many will come on board in ways you could never imagine. Games and goofiness are fine and fun, but there’s nothing more fun than making disciples before and after that dodgeball game.
3. Work hard, communicate well, and turn in your receipts.
From what I’ve seen, the reason youth pastors get fired isn’t usually because of moral failure. They’re most often fired for laziness or sloppiness in work ethic, communication, or details. These little things can become big things, especially on a leadership level.
Jesus reminded His disciples in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” If you can’t be trusted to turn in your receipts, you may not be able to be trusted to effectively lead the youth ministry.
4. Respect your pastor.
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Hebrews 13:17
I’ve noticed that, in some youth leaders who run effective youth ministries, there can be a tinge (or a ton) of disrespect toward their pastors. They’ll says things such as: “He just doesn’t get it” or “I think he’s jealous that our youth group is setting the pace for the church.”
But disrespect always spills through in the form of gossip, bitterness, conflict, or prideful words or tones. Sooner or later, it will show itself, and the youth leader will inevitably lose that arm-wrestling match.
Instead, show as much respect as you can. Depend on the Holy Spirit, and He will give you the strength. You may still differ, but at least you can differ with humility, gentleness, and respect. In many cases, this brand of respectful youth leader can, over time, positively impact both their youth ministries and their pastors.
5. Seek to build a strong relationship with your pastor.
When you have a strong relationship with your pastor, mountains become molehills. When you don’t, molehills become mountains.
How can you build a stronger relationship? Try to do some stuff together (golf, fish, hunt, watch a football game, go to a movie, hang out as couples, etc.). Write an encouraging note or send an encouraging text once a month. Do an office pop-in now and again to see how things are going and how you can pray for him.
The stronger your relationship, the more likely your pastor will get on board with your youth ministry philosophy and strategy, especially because they’ll be able to speak into it as a friend and not just as a boss.
BUT WHAT IF…
What if you’re doing all these things and your pastor still isn’t on board?
What if your pastor is diametrically opposed to your youth ministry philosophy or to you personally?
What if you know there’s nothing you can do to truly change the situation?
I can’t give you an easy answer, but there are three options: Leave, wait to be fired, or stay and keep trying to change the situation (while risking being miserable in the process).
My advice? It may be time to move on. But every situation is different, and I would make sure you’ve prayed this through and done everything in your power to resolve the situation.
Years ago, I wrote a book called Firing Jesus inspired by a youth leader I knew. He was in a no-win situation with getting his pastor on board. He was eventually fired and is now a lead pastor who is fully on board with reaching the next generation for Jesus.
God can take any situation and turn it around for His glory! Let’s just make sure we’re responding in the right way as we seek to get our pastors on board with our youth ministry vision and strategy.