Your first two years in ministry: Understanding submission & leadership

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Working With Your Lead Pastor Or Supervisor:

I first want to state that this content comes from the book your first two years in youth ministry, and personal experience and reflection. Let’s start with the honest truth, your SP (Senior Pastor) or Sup (Supervisor) are a combination of strengths and weaknesses just like you are. Doug Fields even stresses that “gifted communicators are not always gifted administrators.” So give room not only for yourself, but your team to grow.

Actions To Avoid:

  1. Don’t drain your SP or Sup: What do I mean? Be a breath of fresh air when your pastor sees you. During meetings, protect your pastor’s time by arriving early with an agenda and keeping to it. Respect your SP time and you will be amazed at how much more you’ll receive from him. But if he sees you as a drain he may avoid you. This is normal human behavior.
  2. Keep your problems your problems: Your SP has enough he has to deal with, don’t add a missing van key on top of his plate. If you have a major problem talk to your SP. But if you have something small – seek out a mentor or another staff person. I’ll admit this goes against my grain of thinking. College taught pastoral submission and being upfront with your SP. Even today I’m learning to dial back.
  3. Don’t expect a lot of your SP time: In your first few years of full time ministry you will need mentorship, but that doesn’t mean its always going to be from your SP. In fact I have found that most often the SP expects you to be a professional in your role already. My first full time gig my SP told me up front – “I’m not your pastor I’m your boss, make sure you know the difference and what you can and can’t tell me. ” It might sound crazy but he was drawing the healthy boundaries that he needed in order to correct me if I was in the wrong without pastoring me. This also put a limit on our relationships but better to know up front than make a mistake down the road.
  4. Think big picture: This quote comes directly from Doug Fields “Steer clear of this belief: youth ministry is the most important ministry in the church. Yes youth ministry is critical in the life of the church, and, unfortunately, SP often ignore it. This does not give you the right to whine about being neglected or complain about needing budget money. Spend time proving the importance of your ministry by changing lives. Remember every task that honors God is important. When you live by that truth, you’ll be a valued staff member not a competitor.”  – Here’s my take, every role in the church is meant to support the SP vision and point people to Jesus. Seeing that as the big picture helps keep us focused and build a culture of Honor where the anointing can flow.
  5. Knock over the perfection pedestal: “The closer you get to a leader – every human leader – the bigger the flaws appear. ” Lead with grace, mistakes will happen, you will have hurt and disappointment. Don’t let that become bitterness. Forgive and move on.


Actions to take with your SP:

Doug Fields states ” My philosophy about working with my SP is to do whatever I can to make his life easier. I want him to succeed and to know that he can trust me in every situation.” If thats your heart consider these ideas.

  1. Care for his family, love his children: That doesn’t mean you need to be the one discipling them, but it does mean give them an extra hug. Affirm them, and encourage them. As a PK (Pastors kid) ministry can be rough. There is a high demand on your parents, and often unrealistic expectations on you. I remember times that I had to fight in the inner city Rochester because of my skin color. There was a time after youth one Wednesday where a group of kids attacked me by the dumpster simply because I was the white pastors kid. Church volunteers expected me to always know every bible answer and to always be on the best behavior. Make room for PK to be kids too who also need love and attention.
  2. Support your SP dreams: “Sometimes your pastors dreams may become your nightmares.” – Doug Fields says this in tongue and cheek, but sometimes God gives your SP a dream that would scare you, you see the work ahead. Encourage him, pray for him, support him. He’s trying to live out the call God has placed on his life, and you’re there to see it come to pass. Thats servant leadership.
  3. Encourage: SP need affirmation too! Let them know that when they helped you it made a difference. If you were encouraged by their message let them know. Remember we are all people and the devil often tries to strike the leader through discouragement, because it will impact the sheep.
  4. Take the heat: If you cant protect your SP and take the heat, or listen to a complaint do it. SP need to know others on the team will help absorb some of the pain and provide temporary relief. You will often hear me tell our Kids and Youth team that you can make me the bad guy. This also flows down stream. I want to make sure my team knows I am here for them, as much as they are here for me.
  5. Invite then uninvite: Let your SP and Sup know they are invited to events, but also ensure them that they are not expected to be there. If the staff showed up to every event in the church they would have no time for family.
  6. Speak highly of your pastor: Remember we are trying to build a culture of honor for the anointing to flow. Your SP needs to know you have their back, not just in front of them, but when they are not around also.
  7. Inform but don’t overwhelm: Give dates, times, details, but not the full negotiation. Keep your SP in the loop but not crushed with a 30 minute pitch.
  8. Be smart with your big ask: Save your big asks for when they are needed. If you use up your favors too early, you will reduce your impact. Your SP will always carry more authority and influence than you do.
  9. Pray: for your SP and yourself to follow his leadership. Pray that your SP relationship with God, for his relationships with their spouse and family. Pray for yourself that you would have wisdom to care for your SP as a person (not as a boss) Working relationships are not always easy because conflict will arise. But your response to authority figures in your church will be reflected in your ministry’s effectiveness.

Words from the trenches:

“Having been a SP for nearly 20 years, I know both the thrill and the pain of working with staff. When it’s rockin and rollin, there’s nothing better – but when there’s tension, conflict, or dysfunction, there’s nothing worse. Doug has successfully navigated the waters of a good SP – Student pastor relationship, and I get to see it first hand as a peer in ministry. Because of that, Doug’s ministry is fruitful, the student ministry is highly honored at our church, the Kingdom is advanced, and as an added bonus, Doug has modeled his supervision/submission approach for his own team of leaders to learn from and duplicate.” – Brad Johnson


Next Steps:

  1. Take a moment and reflect on ways you can help support your SP vision and dream. If you don’t know it, then ask.
  2. Write a list of your SP strengths – write an encouraging note highlighting a few.
  3. Take a moment to find a way to encourage another staff member on your team.