11 Things: Church Culture And Politics

Depending on what kind of day I’m having I might be able to brush off the niggle that is church politics or I might get really cynical and let my frustration out to those around me.

Unfortunately, like any workplace, organisation, or business (for profit or not), churches have politics. As a Youth Pastor it is important to be aware of this reality and be able to deal with it in a healthy manner.

When you start as a Youth Pastor you walk in pretty blind to what the higher echelons of church management deal with. Whether it be a pastoral team, the leadership team (elders and deacons), or even a ministry area (youth, families, childrens, mens, womens etc.) it takes time to grow in understanding of the culture of the church and its leadership.

Before we unpack the main areas of church politics a Youth Pastor needs to deal with there are three important caveats worth mentioning:

(1) There are many good and well-meaning people who do not seek to be involved in church politics but because of the church’s culture they can’t help it. With leadership and responsibility comes with it certain parameters and a certain culture. Even a new person to a leadership role can be swept along without realising they’re in the middle of some sort of politicking. I don’t believe most church members seek to be part of a team that is dysfunctional or unhealthy in this way.

(2) Talking about the topic of church politics brings with it a negative tinge. Not all politics in a church is bad, sometimes it is necessary. But even using the term ‘politics’ in the church setting conjures up ugly and dysfunctional images.

(3) I, like everyone else, bring my own set of assumptions and experience to church and its leadership. I recognise that growing up as a Pastor’s Kid, where church was all-consuming, has impacted me more than I probably realise. Seeing, hearing, and knowing what churches are like at every level and observing how they operate from a young age provides a unique insight, for better or worse.

With that said, it is worth outlining a few points about what to be aware of when settling into the Youth Pastor role, particularly as a ‘newbie’ or in a new church.

First, you are being watched by everyone.

The Youth Pastor role is an unbelievably important and strategic role in the church. I believe this to be the case. But it is also a role where you are being watched – your character, your interactions with people, your words, and your actions. Everything. Even before you step into the congregation for your first Sunday people already know of you and have certain expectations about what you will bring to the church. They will watch you from day one and will continue to do so throughout your tenure.

Second, people will talk about you.

Just realise that people will talk about you without you there. They will talk about your personality, about the actions in leadership you take, about what you wear on a Sunday, about how you relate to the ‘young people’, about how you make conversation with them, and what your family is like (if you have one). Hopefully, when they do speak of you they will speak kindly and positively, but don’t be surprised if there are some negative critiques too.

Third, many people believe they can do your job.

While you have been brought in for the Youth Pastor role there will be plenty of people who believe they can do your job. So, you will find people coming up and suggesting the best way forward in various ministries you’re responsible for. This could be anyone from the 15-year-old in the youth group, the new leader on the team, the parent who isn’t happy with what’s going on, or even the Senior Pastor who was a Youth Pastor 20 years ago and doesn’t believe things have changed that much. This is not to say that input from others is not valid, it most certainly is! But, that feedback and word of input needs to be sifted and thrown back and forth with other leaders in the ministry area. This is why it’s important to have a team of leaders.

Furthermore, this is why it is also important to work out what you believe is the best strategy for reaching young people, what you’re focussing on, and what that looks like in the week-to-week. Discerning this occurs through your relationship with Jesus, prayer, reading about youth ministry, experience, conversations with other pastors, and with the volunteer leadership team.

Fourth, you will not please everyone.

The quicker you come to terms with this realisation the better for your own emotional health. While those first 12-18 months will generally be quite ‘honeymoonish’ there will come a time where you will begin to hear what people are really thinking. This is where the fun begins. This is where people believe they know you, you’ve been around long enough to build some trust (hopefully), you may have implemented a few little changes here and there, and now feedback on what is actually happening begins to rear its head. In this stage you will find people have strong ideas (refer to my third point) but will also want to see the success of what you’re wanting to achieve too. At this point change may be easier but negative feedback will also come. Being clear on where the youth ministry is headed will make this easier.

Fifth, your ministry is not solely about teenagers.

You’d think that the term ‘Youth Pastor’ would sum up what you do, working with teenagers. This isn’t the case. In reality you are the pastor to the youth but also have working relationships with many of parts of the body. While the youth ministry and the young people is one aspect to your role other important relationships include the Senior Pastor and other colleagues, parents, the church leadership team, other ministry leaders, young adults and other volunteer leaders, just to name a few. With the role comes the actual task of delivering a youth ministry but this all occurs within the context of the wider church. For example, this means when seeking to set dates for the youth ministry you need to take into mind the rhythm of the church and important dates for other ministries of the church. An example that comes to mind for me is setting a Youth Leaders Retreat at the end of the year. I could just put a date down and run with it but I am conscious of where the church meetings are, what the lead up to Christmas means for various church activities, when people are on the music team for Sunday mornings, and the like. The ministry you’re responsible for works within the context of the rest of the church.

Church culture and church politics are something to be aware of when you’re a Youth Pastor. I wish I had known more about his when I first stepped into a paid gig. It can be hard stepping into a church leadership position believing you must get on with everyone, being their best friend. At the end of the day you can’t be, but you can be a leader who takes the responsibility of their position seriously and show others how to ‘do’ youth ministry in a healthy manner.

It is important to do the work God has called you to as you lead the youth ministry. Keep your head down, fight the battle worth fighting for, and pray about the church constantly. Don’t go about injecting yourself into things that you don’t have any influence over but help those around you lead well. Make sure you keep your heart and conscience clear, don’t let any relationship breakdown or uncomfortable church politics fester so you become bitter. And fix your eyes on Jesus, be generous in grace, and hold firm to the Gospel for yourself and those around you.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part eight of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six and part seven here.

Recently Read: June 2017

I’ve been holiday and managed to finish a couple of books. Here’s some thoughts about them.

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Killing Calvinism: How To Kill A Perfectly Good Theology From The Inside by Greg Dutcher

Now here is a book for Calvinists.

If you’re wanting to explore what Calvinism is then go elsewhere, just as the author says in his introduction. But, if you’re a Calvinist who doesn’t want to be a tool then please read this book. It will be very beneficial for you.

It’s a short book, around 100 pages. There are 8 chapters, each outlining how to ruin Calvinism and its appeal. Implied in each chapter is a call to gracious humility, calling Calvinists to be more generous and winsome in communicating and teaching biblical doctrine. At the end of each chapter there is an appropriate prayer to pray as well.

It’s part biographical, which adds to its readability.

I thought is was worth the read.

“The sovereignty of God is truly awesome in its power to put new life into the sinner’s soul. But God saved us to “see and savor” much more than just his sovereignty. While relishing the sovereignty of God in salvation is good and healthy, relishing only God’s sovereignty is unhealthy and lopsided…This world desperately needs to see a robust, healthy Calvinism that celebrates the fullness of God’s ways and works – not a lopsided Christian who cannot get off the hobbyhorse of God’s sovereignty.” (p42-43)

Changing The World: Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser

I was gifted this book at Christmas off the back of a fellow Youth Minister’s recommendation. I finally got around to reading it and I would recommend it to others.

This is really a foundational youth ministry textbook. You could use it in the classroom, with an intern, or with a group of youth leaders.

There’s 15 chapters, making up 150-odd pages.

The author’s contention is that all youth ministry should be focussed on discipleship. The focus of any church-based youth ministry should be targeting those who are part of the church, such as teenagers of church families. This begins with developing a group, no matter how large or small, that grows through the teaching of God’s Word and community together. From this foundation the youth ministry grows organically through the evangelism and mission of those within the youth ministry itself.

I tend to agree with the majority of what Ken Moser, the author, writes. He goes hard against an entertainment model of youth ministry that essentially means the church is running a baby-sitting club on Friday nights. However, he goes so hard against it that at times it feels like this model of youth ministry would be the most boring thing ever. I’m not convinced that youth ministry is solely bible studies with light refreshments and the odd social tacked on once every few months.

In case I’m being too unfair, I do think it lays out a good foundation for discipleship and rightly highlights the need for strategic youth ministry. There are also a few resources provided in the latter chapters to help someone fresh in running a youth ministry.

It would make my top 5 books on youth ministry.

“As I reflect on youth ministry, I am absolutely convinced that ministry to young people is about grabbing hold of this world with the gospel of Christ, shaking it alive and placing it on the road toward eternal life. In short, youth ministry is about changing the world for Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. There is an urgency to our job, be clear on this.” (pXII)

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

I’m blown away by this book and I haven’t even finished it yet. In fact, I don’t think I’m even a third of the way through it.

This book is simply making the case that speaking and acting for justice in our world is a natural part of what it means to be a Christian. Whether it is an international cause or simply caring for your neighbour, the bible speaks constantly of the need to care for others and help meet their needs.

Already I am heavily convicted by this book. It is deeply biblical and provides an excellent case for compassion ministry, particularly through the church.

I look forward to finishing this one and seeing what happens in my own life in response to it.

“A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers’ hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observance are just filled with self and pride.” (p50)

“The disposition of one’s possessions signifies the disposition of one’s heart.” (p51)

“Anyone who has truly been touched by the grace of God will be vigorous in helping the poor.” (p54)

“The Biblical perspective sees sexual immorality and material selfishness as both flowing from self-centredness rather than God-centredness.” (p55)

This has now gone on longer than I had hoped. Anyway, I also attempted to read The Messiah Code, a novel written by Michael Cordy. I tried. I really did. I made it to page 80 and gave it back to the op shop. It wasn’t great.

Have you read anything interesting lately?

11 Things: Temptation And Holiness

As I’ve mentioned previously, the church is made up of broken and sinful people (Romans 3:23). This includes the leadership of any church, its elders and pastors. This includes the Youth Pastor too. It is simply a reality.

Before starting out in ministry I looked up to my Youth Pastors as people who had it all together. They had a better relationship with God than anyone I knew. For some reason I thought they were further up the spiritual ladder than I could ever imagine attaining. And they were always surrounded by or doing godly type activities – preaching, speaking, leading bible studies, organising events etc. At the end of the day they were in Christian leadership and were ‘better Christians’ than I and most of the congregation.

So I thought.

Entering into youth ministry with this thought will not help. That is why I wished I knew that the sin and brokenness which we have prior to ministry will be amplified when in it.

Those things we fear, those habits we slip into, those behaviours we act out, those temptations to click, those thought processes we go through, will all continue with more intensity as Youth Pastor. The nature of the position means the Evil One will seek you, or those close to you, out more often.

Just as the temptation to sin doesn’t stop when we become a Christian, the temptation to sin doesn’t stop when entering ministry either. It only increases.

This is not then used to justify sinful behaviour or thought, it is the reality of being in the role. Sinfulness continues because we are not yet perfect beings. However, realising that there is an increase of temptation as Youth Pastor it is probably wise to have a few things in place.

Regular Life With Jesus 

This is a no brainer. Every Christian should be having regular time with Jesus. But this does require intentionality. It is easy to slip into believing that all those sermons, bible studies and pastoral meetups with prayer constitutes daily devotional time with Jesus. We know that’s not the case though. Put time in your calendar, alarms on your phone, and work to find a regular rhythm to meet with Jesus throughout the day, week, month and year.

A Ministry Partner

I’m sure I’d have gone off the rails more that I usually do had I not been meeting with those who ask the hard questions. Regular catch ups with people willing to ask about my private life sounds daunting but it is just so important in helping me continue in faith and ministry. One or two guys regularly hear acknowledgement of my own fallenness and brokenness. These are people I trust, away from my own church context, who know what I’m going through. Make sure you get one if you haven’t.

Know Thyself

When you are prone to falling into temptation? What is it that makes you do this? Is it tiredness? It is boredom? It is escapism? Is it procrastination? It is something else? Look at your calendar, see what energises you and what doesn’t. Think about what happens in your head and in our body as you work through the rhythms of your ministry week, month, year, etc. Are you always gorging KFC on the way home from youth group at midnight on a Friday night? Are you thinking poorly of people you are working with? Are you wasting time on things that take you away from the important things? Know thyself.

As much as this post is about realising the temptations that come thick and fast while a Youth Pastor it is also about holiness. Holiness is a much maligned topic. We seek to follow Jesus as much as we can and be missional in our lives. Yet, for some reason we really dislike the thought of having to be holy, seeking to be obedient, and grow in godly maturity and character. Of course it will be painful, cutting off branches that don’t produce fruit in order to have small shoots of growth is going to be so. But in among this realisation of increased temptation comes the need to pursue holiness (Hebrew 12:14; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2 Peter).

And yeah, I still look up to my old Youth Pastors no matter their own sense of flaw and brokenness.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part seven of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five and part six here.

Published: The Whole Duty Of The Whole

I’ve had my third piece published at Rooted Ministry. This time I seek to conclude a week long series about how Ecclesiastes speaks to today’s teenager. You can read it here.

“As we have found over the course of our series, Ecclesiastes speaks powerfully to the postmodern teenager. May we help our teens to scratch through the heavy layers of their circumstances, performance, jobs, relationships, and perhaps even through their selfies to find the real answer to that hard question: why am I here?”

Brave – A Reflection For SYG 2017

It’s arrived.

Tonight we head down to State Youth Games.

A long weekend of camping, cold weather, and cramp…for an old guy like me at least.

SYG Brave logo

With over 3000 young people descending upon the camping grounds it promises to be a fairly fun, exciting, and significant weekend. Sports morning and afternoon, dinner around the fire sharing the highs and lows of the day, and then evening sessions of worshipping God together. It’s pretty intense and worth praying for people to see more of Him.

In preparation for the event we as a youth ministry structured our talks at youth group around the SYG main theme of ‘Brave’. As leaders we figured this would help us prepare for what we may well hear through the main sessions across the weekend. While not everyone in our group is coming along to SYG it enables a glimpse into what might be. So with ‘Brave’ in mind we outlined, and have been working through, a series of talks around this theme.

Over the course of this term we’ve covered things like being brave to change, being brave to love, being brave to speak, being brave to risk, being brave to stand, being brave to share, and being brave to be.

Through various passages in the Gospel of Luke we’ve seen how the way of Jesus requires us to be brave. Whether it is what Jesus does himself, through interactions he has with others, and even in the stories he tells, we find glimmers of bravery occurring and being encouraged.

One of these passages is Luke 8:42-48.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Here we see the story of a woman who was brave enough to risk in order to be healed.

This woman was in a constant state of bleeding, that is, she had a continuous period for 12 years. Due to this she was considered unclean and dirty, seen as an outcast, and in all reality was a very vulnerable person in the society in which she lived.

Evidently this woman had heard about Jesus and that he could heal her. In faith she sought him out as he walked through the crowd and then attempted to touch his cloak quietly. Jesus realised power had come out of him, but his disciples think he’s crazy because with such a large crowd of course someone would’ve touched him.

Note that when the woman comes forward and admits to Jesus it was her who touched him he is not angry or disappointed. He is in fact pleased with her and it is her faith that has made her well.

The action taken by this woman is an example of being brave. She is brave to (1) have faith that Jesus could heal her and brave to (2) take action upon that faith.

We may not have the same issue as this woman. We may not even need to be physically healed. But, there may be times when we need to step out in faith, be brave, and take a risk. This could be as little as admitting we’re wrong to admitting we’re struggling with friends, school, self-esteem, or our mental health. Other ways we may need to risk and be brave includes standing up for what we believe, helping someone, stepping out in faith, or even having faith itself.

This coming weekend provides an opportunity for young people all over the state come together to play sport, strike up conversations with people they don’t know, and hear of God’s work in people and places. Please be in prayer for youth and young adults from various churches, that they will come to know more of Jesus, have faith in him, and be brave to step out in that faith.

Lloyd-Jones On Prayer

mljlifeinspiritIn 1952-1953 Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a number of expositions on John 17. These have been put together in a book called “Life In The Spirit: Classic Studies In John 17”. Although, it now looks like its been retitled and republished as “The Assurance Of Our Salvation“. In his second exposition, “Why Pray?” there are some terrific quotes about prayer worth being reminded of here.

“We might have considered a man very saintly because his will was conforming to the will of God, and because he meditated about these things and because his supreme desire was to live to the glory of God. Well, you might say, such a man would have much less need of prayer than anybody else, but it is not the case. Look at the most outstanding godly men and women, how often they spent much more time in prayer than anybody else. They did not just passively wait for God’s will to be done, no, they, more than anybody else, went, rather, and talked to God. And as you proceed to read the history of the church throughout the centuries, you will find exactly the same thing. Whether he belongs to the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Church, it is always the hallmark of a saint that he is a great man of prayer. John Wesley used to say that he had a very poor opinion of a Christian who did not spend at least four hours in prayer every day, and that is but a typical statement of God’s outstanding people in the church through the centuries.”

(John 17:1, Why Pray?, p26)

“You show me a man who does not pray very much and I will tell you the real problem of that man. It is that he does not know God, he does not know God as his Father. That is the trouble. The problem is not that he is not a moral man, or that he is not a good man. He can be highly moral, he may be very faithful in Christian church work, there many be nothing he is not prepared to do, but if he does not pray, I tell you that the essence of that man’s trouble is that he does not know God as his Father. For those who know God best are the ones who speak to him most of all.”

(John 17:1, Why Pray?, p29)

“Let me put it like this: the saints always prayed to God, and our Lord supremely did so, because they believed in God’s power, because they believed in God’s ability to help, and, above all, because they believed in God’s willingness and readiness to help. That is tremendously important. They, of everybody, knew the power of God, yes, but the world and its trials tend to shake our confidence in him and there is no better way of reminding ourselves of the power and the greatness of God, his ability and his readiness to help, that to go and talk to him; that is why the saints always fly to prayer. ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe (Proverbs 18:10). In other words, the saint rushes to God in prayer and reminds himself of these things.”

(John 17:1, Why Pray?, p31)

11 Things: Nothing Else Matters

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part six of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart four, and part five here.


When in the guts of week-to-week youth ministry it is unlikely that anyone cares about what you’ve achieved in the past. The only time your education, prior experience, and variety of training helps you is through the application and interview process. Once your name has gone to the church, an introductory A4 sheet of paper is handed out about who you are (and your family, if you have one), and the vote has been taken, it’s all over. All of that is forgotten.

What matters most to those in your church is how you relate to people and whether you can look after the students.

Seriously, get those two things right and generally people will be happy.

However, for us as Youth Pastors, we have a sense of pride in our work. This is not the kind of arrogant pride, overconfidence, and belittling of others. No, this is a sense of achievement, being happy and satisfied in the work, education, and relationships we have in our life.

If you’ve been in youth ministry longer than 5 years you should feel good about that. If you’ve completed a particular course, you should feel good about that. If you’ve travelled, you should feel good about that. If you’ve been through tough experiences and come out the other side, you should feel good about that. If you’ve taken the step to get married, I hope you’d feel good about that! Whatever your accomplishments and achievements are you should feel good about them. We are all unique and will bring those experiences into our youth ministry role at church.

The issue is, no one will care more about this than you.

I wished I knew that what I’d achieved in the past would only matter to me earlier than I did. At one stage I believed that the two-years in mission work would help me gain a position as Youth Pastor. I thought it would at least provide a good platform for leadership in the church. After all, I knew what I’d done, the experiences I’d had, and was confident in my own abilities. Yet, when in conversation with someone in leadership they simply dismissed this experience because it wasn’t youth ministry specific. Little did they know me, let alone the experiences I had, and how totally applicable and formative it was to youth ministry.

Often we begin to believe that the experiences we’ve had in the past aren’t very influential or relevant to the role we play as Youth Pastors. This isn’t true.

Everything we’ve done is really formative for us. Our experience in life and work all helps in the youth ministry role, helping us relate, care, and create as Youth Pastors. Whether it’s a course of study, travel, corporate work, gardening, or cleaning toilets as part of your entry-level McDonalds job, all of these help in forming us in youth ministry.

All this being said, it comes down to the realisation that we can’t rest on these experiences. We can’t have our hope and identity in our past accomplishments, just as we can’t have our hope and identity in our role as Youth Pastor.

While these things help form us, they aren’t known to others. Youth ministry volunteers, parents, the students don’t know your story like you do. When something comes up that they’re not happy with, that they challenge you on, that they disagree with you about, then none of your accomplishments matter. It’s not about status and achievements. What matters is how you’re going to deal with the situation you have in front of you. What matters is whether you’ve learnt from your experiences, and how you can leverage them in dealing with the challenges and joys you face in youth ministry now.

The point is really about identity.

Our identity is not in our position as Youth Pastor. It’s not in our accomplishments. It’s not about our ego.

It’s in Christ (John 15:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; Col 3:3).

We serve him. His people. And try to get the ego out of the way.


Questions for reflection:

  • Do you put too much weight in the achievements of the past?
  • Is your ego seeking to remind you of all the awesome things you’ve done?
  • How are you learning and growing to serve others in humility?