A few years back, at one of Saddleback’s youth worker conferences, we offered a workshop called Senior Pastor: Friend or Foe.
Unfortunately, it was a really popular seminar.
It seems that youth pastors deal in extremes in many ways—not just in the lives of students at a critical and often misunderstood age, but extremes in their relationships with their supervisor. No matter how good or bad your relationship is with the lead youth worker in your church, I applaud you for reading the title of this article and at least being mildly interested in the perspective of a guy who’s played number two his whole career.
I’ve sat in my church office (which was located in the basement, though I’m sure that fact was no reflection on my value), completely frustrated with my leader. Wrongly, I’ve done youth ministry all alone, frustrated by the lack of camaraderie with my boss. I’ve dug myself into some pretty terrific pits in my time as a youth pastor, too many without the confidence of a trusted partner in ministry. Someone on your team might be thinking or feeling this way right now … in their basement office.
The relationship between the church staff team has to be effortless. But it takes a ton of effort. When people look at a great marriage, they may not realize the arduous amount of hard work that it takes—and your staff is like a second spouse. (I’m just being figurative here, in case you felt like I was endorsing concubines.) You’ve carefully invested day after day in your marriage and built up trust; the same has to be true with that guy sitting in the basement.
I want someone to offer a workshop for pastors on how to partner with your youth pastor—the room would be packed! And I want that person to be you. In order for the relationship to change, there will have to be some game-changing effort put into it. Here are a few first steps to challenge you, the senior pastor, to make the first bold move:
Take them out for lunch
My love language is food, but beyond that, it’s always easier to talk to someone over food—your treat (hey, you get paid wayyyy more than we do). And don’t let your youth pastor choose the place to eat, either. Our cars will autopilot us straight to Taco Bell, so make sure you have a nicer place in mind when you make the ask. And offer to drive, too—no senior pastor should ever have to experience the disaster of the passenger seat of a youth worker’s car. It could take them a half-hour just to make room for you to sit down. Once you’re there, spend time communicating and developing that all-important relationship with one of the key leaders in your ministry. Bonus: Even if they can’t make it to lunch that day, you’ll still get major credit.
Spontaneously buy them a gift
When your youth pastor walks into their office (or is starting the trek downstairs to find it), they’ll be greeted by voicemails, a mountain of email and a list of items to respond to, all with varying urgency. But also waiting for them is a little gift from you. And while thoughtful, it isn’t a gift-with-a-hidden-meaning, like a book on better time management or a polo shirt as a subtle reminder to dress up a bit. Here’s a little gift equation as a guide: A little thought + unexpected - agenda = super meaningful. Something little could be really big.
Invite them to speak in the adult services
I knew this one would be tough; that’s why I put it in the middle where it wouldn’t shock you as much. Go ahead—take the risk and let them speak every once in a while. You know you could use the break, and we always talk about God’s Spirit showing up when the pastor speaks, so why not give it a shot? You could start by giving them the Sunday night message, I suppose, but we both know that doesn’t really count.
Offer to cover for a getaway weekend
This shows you care about your youth worker beyond the workplace. Think of how valuable it would be if someone on the elder board did it for you (I may have just stumbled on my next article). Offer to give them a break, and once you’re there, (with the youth leader’s permission) cast the vision of the church and clearly show how students fit into that plan. Be sure to brag on the youth worker when they’re gone.
Just drop by youth group for no reason
When my senior pastor does this, I totally freak out. I immediately begin to come up with excuses why attendance is off a bit and come up with plausible explanations for the mysterious new hole in the drywall by the drinking fountain. It would be tragic for the only time the senior pastor enters the youth room is when there is a problem. So make it normal for you to drop in. Become the youth group’s unofficial cheerleader, and your youth pastor will take the ball further down the field than you ever imagined she could.
Let me wrap up with a single suggestion: Put one of these ideas into action this week; it could change your church staff relational culture overnight.
Freak out your youth pastor this year!