Working at a church isn’t a guarantee that everyone will get along well.
In fact, a great relationship with your senior pastor requires intentional actions. It’s difficult to find the time to connect when people are busy, driven and excited about ministry. Add to the equation the constant stress and neverending “to do” list, and it can be tough for two colleagues to have a great relationship.
1. GUT CHECK
The foundation for a healthy relationship begins when you’re honest with yourself. Are you truly on board with following the leadership of your senior pastor? When you think about your senior pastor, what is the usual tone of your thoughts? Are you usually supportive, or do you mostly disagree? This point is a no-brainer: If you don’t want to follow your senior pastor, you’re not going to enjoy a healthy relationship. This becomes a subtle trap when you don’t realize the depth of your disagreement. Get to the root: Are you following the leader?
2. (You may need to) STOP FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF
This is a harsh point! We make this point because we’ve seen many lousy youth worker/senior pastor relationships happen because the youth worker has too many unrealistic expectations of the senior position. Yes, you are a valuable leader in your church. And yes, senior pastors are busy, under a lot of pressure, and thinking about the spiritual needs of the congregation. The best way to be loved is to begin by being a loving leader and follower. You know this; you’ve probably taught your students this truth many times. If you continue to build up your expectations that your senior pastor is only about loving you and encouraging you, you’ll fall deeper into frustration. Make an effort to reach out, be loving and supportive of your pastor. This will reveal that you are doing your part to make the relationship healthy.
3. COMMUNICATE WELL
No one likes to be caught off guard, so commit to being diligent to make sure your senior pastor knows about the major events and programs in your ministry. Let him/her know of your major decisions, successes and barriers. Your senior pastor may not read everything you provide, but it’s wise to make sure he/she has the available information.
4. BE PREPARED WHEN YOU MEET TOGETHER
You can respect your senior pastor’s time by preparing before you meet. Show up to your meeting with two copies of an articulate agenda. By doing this, you will respect your senior pastor’s time and may find yourself getting more of it in the future. You don’t want to be that one draining staff person who is unorganized and never gets to the main purpose of your time together.
Ask for help and/or wisdom on the difficult decisions (this is especially true if you are facing a crisis—don’t try to tackle all the biggies alone). Be sure to communicate the possible solutions and indicate which one you are leaning toward. If you simply show up to a meeting with a problem, you’ll be making it your senior pastor’s problem. If you ask him/her to respond to the thinking you’ve already done on the problem, you’ll demonstrate your competence for problem solving as well as your humility for wanting additional experience and wisdom.
5. INVITE HIM/HER TO YOUR MINISTRY EVENTS
Be strategic and think through a couple of different ways your senior pastor can contribute to your ministry. It may be something as simple as a brief appearance at a volunteer training or a short message to the teenagers, or it may be as much as showing up to a camp or retreat. Invite with great enthusiasm, but also give him/her an “out” for attending—knowing that your senior pastor has many pressing time demands.
6. TRY TO CONNECT RELATIONALLY
Take a risk and invite your senior pastor to hang out. He/she may not want to play a round of Halo on your Xbox, but an informal meal or coffee can assist toward improving your relationship. If your offer is rejected, even though it will be difficult to swallow, try not to take it too personally (it just may not be their style of connecting).
7. BE YOURSELF
You don’t want to do ministry as a fake—you won’t last over the long haul. Too many youth workers go too far when they sacrifice their integrity by putting up a façade or pretending they’re someone they’re not. You can’t be the person you think your senior pastor wants you to be—you’ve got to be yourself. It’s more fun, and it’s definitely a better way to build an authentic relationship.
You may never be “best friends” with your senior pastor, but your side of the relationship can be encouraging and healthy. Are you doing your part?
(This is a two-part series shared by Doug Fields originally titled “Build a Relationship With Your Senior Pastor.”)