I talk to youth leaders across the country, many of whom feel like their pastors are not fully behind their youth ministry efforts. Speaking as a former church planter and preaching pastor, here are a few tips that will help get your Sr. 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 holding them up in prayer on a consistent basis. Even the great Apostle Paul asked the Ephesian believers to pray for him to have boldness as he shared the Gospel. He wrote, "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" Ephesians 6:19,20.
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 off on their philosophy of ministry. For many pastors youth ministry can seem like a sweaty mixture of games, goofiness and God talks.
Share with your pastor a vision for reaching every teenager in your community. Let your pastor hear, see and sense your passsion for helping every teenager in your group grow deep in Christ and go wide with his message. Then show them the programs you are building that match this compelling vision. Check out gospeladvancing.com 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 dodge ball game.
3. Work hard, communicate well and turn in your receipts.
Most youth pastors I know who have been fired haven't been fired over moral failure. They've been 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 have noticed that, in some youth leaders who are running very effective youth ministries, there can be a tinge (or a ton) of disrespect toward their pastors. They'll use terms like "He just doesn't get it" or "I think he's jealous that our youth group is setting the pace for the church" or something like that.
But disrespect always spills through in the form of gossip, bitterness or conflict. 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, really make an impact on 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 with your pastor? 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 every now and again to see how things are going and how you can pray for them.
The stronger your relationship with your pastor the more likely your pastor will get on board with your youth ministry philosophy and strategy, especially because they will 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 is still not on board?
What if your pastor is diametrically opposed to your youth ministry philosophy or to you personally?
What if you know that 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 himself 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 are responding in the right way as we seek to get our pastors on board with our youth ministry vision and strategy.