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?

Being Pastor To A Pastor’s Kid

I’m a Pastor’s kid.

I’ve also been the Youth Pastor to the Senior Pastor’s kids.

It’s a weird situation.

I recently wrote about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship. Off the back of this a mate of mine suggested I write more specifically about dealing with a dynamic many Youth Pastors face – You’re the Youth Pastor of the Senior Pastor’s kids.

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On one hand you want to to lead the youth ministry in a way that you believe is appropriate. A way that is contextual to young people while also coming under the vision, mission and values of your church. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem.

But on the other hand, the Senior Pastor, the one you as Youth Pastor report to, has children in the youth ministry. And while they trust you and your leadership; they have an added desire to see their children come to faith under your ministry. This is not to say their children are any more important than another parent’s child, not at all. It just happens to be that your ‘direct manager’ is also a parent.

It becomes an interesting dance.

And so, it’s worth thinking through this particular topic from four perspectives.

First, the Senior Pastor perspective.

Their desire is for their children to come to know and follow Jesus. The Pastor, with their spouse, has sensed a call to the ministry. They have invested time, money, and energy into the local church. They continue to teach and counsel the members of the congregation. But, their children are special to them. They are their children! They love them, want the best for them, and over the years have been teaching them the ways of the Lord in the family context.

Like any other parent you deal with as a Youth Pastor the Senior Pastor and their spouse is no different. They have a strong desire in seeing their child come to faith in Jesus, raised well in the context of their local church, included in the church family in a way that is meaningful, and have them grow in faith.

Second, the local church perspective.

To the congregation, the children of the Senior Pastor reflect their Pastor. Depending on the context this could be a small thing or it could be quite a big thing. Either way, there is some form of reflection.

For some reason most churches believe they own the children of the Pastor and consider them one of their own. They have unsaid and unintentional expectations on how the Senior Pastor’s kids are to behave, what they should be doing, what they believe, and how much biblical knowledge they should have. Whether it is during a church service or while they’re at youth group, the church is watching them.

The church loves these children though. They give them extra servings at church lunches, a gift at Christmas, or something special for their birthday. This doesn’t come to every child in the congregation, some things are specifically for the Pastor’s kid.

In one’s most skeptical moments there is the thought that this special attention given to the Pastor’s children is solely because their parent is the key leader of the church. Most of the time this is out of love and care and concern. But, at other times this could be a way for certain members to get back at their Pastor, an attempt to bring some form of turmoil to the Pastor’s family or ministry. This is not to say that the small minority causing these issues are prevalent in every church. It’s something to be aware of.

There are expectations coming from the congregation regarding the Pastor and his family. They are often unsaid. But at the end of the day it will cause grief, not just as a parent, if the Pastor’s kid goes off the rails. It will cause the Pastor to wonder whether they are worthy of the position they are in, and this may even be voiced by some in the congregation.

Depending on what season of life the child is in will depend on how the church reacts to certain actions, beliefs and behaviours of said child. Considering we’re talking about those youth ministry years you can imagine the things going on here.

Third, the Youth Pastor perspective.

The Youth Pastor is in an interesting position. They are seeking to disciple the Senior Pastor’s children. They don’t believe they should be doing anything different for this child despite the parent being their boss. But, this is a fine balance, as they want the best for this kid, like all the others in the youth ministry.

The Youth Pastor is employed by the church and sits under the Senior Pastor. At times, whether in a Pastoral Team meeting or at a church event, the Senior Pastor will have two hats – that of parent and that of Pastor. To know which is on at which time could lead to confusion and misunderstanding if not careful.

It is also worth pointing out that the Youth Pastor may be lulled into unhealthy thinking; believing that if the Senior Pastor’s child is doing alright then they might have an ease of pressure from their superior.

At the end of the day it is worth having some clear guidelines about how to approach this. Some of the following suggestions might be helpful:

  1. Have a conversation with the Senior Pastor about dealing with their children. Just open up the conversation and see what comes of it. Often it is in having the conversation that a greater understanding of the issue can be seen. There needs to be awareness from both the Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor that this topic can be a minefield and lead to conflict.
  2. Suggest that the Senior Pastor isn’t the parent that brings parenting questions to the Youth Pastor. Have a clear guideline that means the spouse of the Senior Pastor raises issues or concerns to the Youth Pastor.
  3. Work out boundaries on how much or how little to share about the Pastor’s kid. Often Youth Pastors will know stuff about the child that the Senior Pastor won’t even know.
  4. Have an advocate from outside the church come and speak to the Senior Pastor on your behalf or with you. This could be a denominational leader or simply another Pastor who you trust will mediate fairly.

Fourth, the Pastor’s kid perspective.

It’s not often we end up thinking how things might look from the Pastor’s kid perspective. As a Youth Pastor we obviously want to be aware of their needs, and the challenges they are facing in any particular season. But, who really thinks about the perspective of the Pastor’s kid? Here’s a little of what they’re thinking while they traverse church life as they go through their teen years.

  • They are aware that everyone in the church is looking at them; their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.
  • They are aware that their parent is the key leader of the church and that his leadership is something God has ordained.
  • They are aware that they didn’t ask for this role of Pastor’s kid. They had no say in it, it just is.
  • They are aware that their coming to faith or turning from the faith has an impact on their family. Anything from parental disappointment to job loss.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor doesn’t want to show them any more special treatment than they do to others. This means it might actually be harder for them to integrate or feel comfortable in the community.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor is under the leadership of their parent and so can play this off if they were inclined to do so.
  • They are aware that what they say about the Youth Pastor at home might have an impact on the Youth Pastor’s relationship with their parents.
  • They are aware that they are expected to be at youth events and enjoy the youth ministry that their church has.

This can be a thorny issue for Youth Pastor’s. It is worth thinking about, at least at some level.

A terrific resource about Pastor’s kids is Barnabas Piper’s book ‘The Pastor’s Kid’. It would be useful for all Pastors and church members to read. If you’re a Youth Pastor and you haven’t thought too much about the Pastor’s kid then I’d encourage you to read this. I have written a review of the book here.

11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part two of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part one here.


As a Youth Pastor I’ve spent time under three Senior Pastors. I’ve always felt I’ve had a good relationship with them. I know I had the support of them throughout my time with them, and I also feel I supported them well, no matter the circumstances. It may well be the loyalty instinct I have within me, but I have resolved from very early on to back my Senior Pastor to the hilt.

The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic is an interesting one. It is not often talked about in public. I’ve never been to a workshop about how to relate to my Senior Pastor or been provided with much training in how to navigate this relationship. If such a workshop was ever offered at a youth ministry conference I suspect it would be highly attended.

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I say this because I believe the main reason Youth Pastors leave churches is because they don’t have a good working relationship with their superior. I don’t have any empirical evidence for this statement, but anecdotally I’ve observed the main reason for Youth Pastors moving on is breakdown in relationship with the Senior Pastor.

I spent six months in a denominational role a couple of years ago caring for Youth Pastors who were having a tough time. The topic of conversation, whenever I met with them, was their relationship with the Senior. Sometimes it was simply wanting to get things off their chest and once that was done there was a sense of freedom. Other times the relationship had broken down to the extent that the Youth Pastor decided to leave.

This is not to say the Senior Pastor is at fault. Not at all. This is not to say that all Youth Pastors leave because of this. Not at all.

But.

If the relationship between the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor is not great then it is hard to provide a healthy ministry for the church.

With this being said, what are some questions worth asking surrounding this topic? How can this working relationship improve for the betterment of the church?

First, the expectations about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship need to be set at the time of advertising the position.

A clear understanding between Senior and Youth Pastor about how they will work together is worth talking through as early as possible. It is one thing for the Youth Pastor to tick the boxes in terms of competency and character, another thing in regard to chemistry.

Being able to talk through the way the church see the position operating gives helpful insight into the working relationship. One role might be for the Youth Pastor to fulfil a set of tasks and “look after the young people”. Another role might include more oversight and leadership and therefore wider conversations with the Senior Pastor would be required.

Questions worth asking at an interview might include:

  1. How often do you expect to meet up with me as the Youth Pastor?
  2. What kind of information about the ministries I lead as Youth Pastor do you require?
  3. Do you see this Youth Pastor role as one that is mainly about fulfilling tasks or is there an element of growth to it?
  4. What kind of availability do you have (as Senior Pastor) if I would like to talk to you (as Youth Pastor)?

Second, is there a growing relationship that includes the Youth Pastor being seen as an actual ‘Pastor’?

For many years it has been common for Youth Pastors to be seen as lowly staff workers for the church. They are really just paid ministry leaders who are ‘looking after the young people’ and not really a significant voice in the life of the church. If this is the first ministry role for the Youth Pastor and they haven’t got many runs on the board then this might be a fair way of operating, as long as the training and development is also happening alongside. But for a Youth Pastor who has been in ministry for a while it might be time to explore areas where they can continue to help grow the church. This could be in pastoral care to parents and families, developing small groups, or having more teaching responsibilities. The point is, when the position is advertised and the relationship with the Senior is defined, does the Youth Pastor actually become a Pastor in the church or are they more a Youth Director or Worker?

Third, regular check-ins and one-on-ones between Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor are vital.

If I didn’t meet with my Senior Pastors I wouldn’t have developed as quickly nor would I have felt respected. Surely, a working relationship means meeting regularly with fellow pastoral team members, no matter what size the church is. In the majority case, where it is a Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor on staff, then this seems even more vital. Putting the principles of leadership and management aside, I don’t actually know how a working relationship can work when the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor don’t meet up, talk about the church and its members, check-in with how each other are going, and learn, develop and grow together. I don’t have a category for this, it seems so basic. Yet, I hear numerous times a year of Senior and Youth Pastors never meeting except on a Sunday morning or at a whole church event. Such a shame.

If there was one thing a Senior Pastor could schedule in to help the relationship it would be a regular one-on-one meet up with their Youth Pastor. If there was one thing a Youth Pastor could seek to encourage their Senior Pastor to do, it would be to meet up with them. This isn’t to add an extra to-do item, this is an opportunity for growth, development, and passing on the faith and ministry. This is an opportunity for discipleship.

I know we now live in a different era. I know that Senior Pastors of the past would operate as the sole pastor of a church. They would have a church of 200-300 people and the pastoral team would consist only of them. But times have changed, there’s more emphasis on team ministry, and the current generation of Youth Pastors coming through are crying out for mentoring, coaching, discipleship (whatever you call it) in ministry. They want to be led, and they want to follow. They want to talk about, observe and experience a variety of opportunities that will help them grow as people and as pastors.

The greatest opportunity for a Senior Pastor to have influence is through their Youth Pastor.

Fourth, is there mutual respect between the Senior and Youth Pastor?

Respect and trust within the pastoral team would seem obvious. This does develop over time, but can also be damaged along the way. This relationship doesn’t mean everyone needs to be best buddies but it should have trust and respect within it.

Ways to foster this mutual respect and trust would be to:

  • Meet regularly.
  • Take an interest in each others lives, not just about the ministry.
  • Speak positively of the other, in public meetings and private conversations with church members.
  • Share openly about the struggles and challenges of life, faith and ministry to one-another.
  • Speak clearly and directly when any disagreements arise (in private).

Fifth, understand the line of authority in the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship.

At the end of the day the Senior Pastor is the main leader of the local church. They have more responsibility placed on their shoulders than anyone else in the church. They not only have pastoral oversight but at the end of the day they are the boss or manager, whichever sounds nicer for you.

As a Youth Pastor I don’t know half of what is coming across the desk of my Senior Pastor. I don’t know the issues he is dealing with most weeks. I know the main things he has responsibility for and what he is up to but whatever it is it’s a lot more than what I have to deal with. This doesn’t minimise any of the issues, problems, or challenges I have as a Youth Pastor. But, one of those particular tasks as a Senior Pastor is pastoral team management, which includes me as Youth Pastor. But as a Youth Pastor I need to recognise that I don’t have overall responsibility for the church. I have responsibility for part of the church and am committed to the ministry, but even that is under the supervision and leadership of the Senior Pastor.

I hope this has been helpful for you. What kind of relationship do you have with your Senior Pastor? 

Starting Fresh As A Youth Pastor

At my denominational gathering of Next Generational Leaders (a fancy name for those in ministry in the children’s, families, youth and young adult demographic) last week I was due to present a few reflections on starting fresh in ministry or a new ministry role. Unfortunately I came down with the flu (or man-flu, it’s a fine line) so I wasn’t able to actually present. However, not wanting to waste the time and thought put into it I have outlined what I was going to say below. Enjoy.

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What happens when the honeymoon period that is beginning at a new church begins to fade into the distance?

Reality sets in.

Things don’t go as smoothly as they were at the start. The jobs seems bigger than expected. Some of the expectations now upon your shoulders aren’t what you enjoy doing. The role you thought you were given in the interview process doesn’t seem to be have been entirely accurate. You begin questioning your own skills and abilities for the job. Already you have people who don’t like you. You feel like you’re being watched in everything you do. The pressure seems to be rising, whether it’s real or not.

Welcome to ministry. 🙂 

In recent times there has been a changing of the guard within the Baptist Union of Victoria’s next generation ministries. A little survey conducted recently found that of the 74 Next Generational Leaders within the BUV surveyed, just over 20% were in their first year of a paid ministry role (they are either starting out or in a new ministry context). If you extend this time to 3 years the number rises to just over 40%. That is a lot of newbies!

So, with that information in mind I briefly want to share with you some reflections that might be helpful for you as you begin in your ministry. And, if you’ve been around the traps for a while then I hope these pointers are a good refresher for you.

First, relationships are key, particularly with your Senior Pastor.

The number one relationship you have within your church, other than with Jesus, is your Senior Pastor.

No other relationship will have a bearing on your role and the way you function as a pastor than the relationship you have with your Senior Pastor. A strong relationship will provide a place of trust, honesty, and freedom in your role and will also allow for affirmation, encouragement and critique.

So, make sure you meet regularly with them. Either weekly or fortnightly. Anything longer and you won’t be building a good enough relationship. Seek to sit under their leadership and understand their vision and mission for the church and how you, in your role and ministry, support that.

This is also the relationship where the most tension will come. Bonem and Patterson, in their book Leading from the Second Chair, speak of it in terms of the subordinate-leadership paradox. Whereby we understand our authority and effectiveness comes from a healthy, subordinate relationship to the Senior Pastor. At different times there will be disagreement and it is the health and strength of the relationship that may determine how things go.

Other relationships are of course important – leadership teams, parents, young adults, young people, kids, schools, community groups etc. But, it is the Senior Pastor relationship that often needs to take priority.

Second, when you’re fresh, just listen and observe what’s going on.

Some pastoral ministry advice I have heard is that it is common to overestimate what you will achieve in your first year and underestimate what you will do in five. I think this is true.

I could come in with my predetermined programs and ideas and begin putting them in place without listening and observing what’s going on. In my 4-5 months I haven’t changed a thing. I’ve probably done some things a little differently but I haven’t made any structural or process changes to our youth and young adult ministries. I can see that in due course there will be a need to develop areas but right now it’s the listening and observation stage.

Each individual church is its own cultural microcosm and system. It can take many years for change to come about.

With this in mind I’d encourage you to simply listen to the stories of those who attend, ask them why they’re at the church, why do they stick around in this place? Speak to those in the youth group, the young adults and also the older ones in the congregation to get a sense of the history of the place. You may find that there are reasons why the church operates the way it does and it may seem completely logical in their mind and totally stupid in yours.

But just listen, listen and observe what’s going on and where God is at work.

Third, it’s important to have perspective.

We are broken people, working with broken people. And it is only by the grace of God that we do what we do.

It is such a privilege to disciple and equip people as they seek to know Jesus more and more. The amount of time, effort, and heartache that we put into our programs and our people can make us lose perspective at times.

There is great joy and great pain in ministry and it is only survived through a strong relationship with Jesus, who gives perspective to all things.

I am glad that my personhood and identity is not wrapped up in being a pastor. Being the Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Rowville Baptist Church is the current assignment God has for me, but my call is simply to follow Jesus and be more like Him. That allows me to have perspective in what I do.

It’s not easy. Not by any means.

But it is a truth that needs to be held onto.

Therefore, I want to encourage you to get a mentor or a ministry partner. Someone who you can trust, who knows what you are going through, and who can sit there and listen to you verbally vomit all over them. Someone who can understand the tough and challenging times but also someone who can lift the mirror up and tell you you’re being selfish and an idiot. Make sure you have someone like that, or a group of people like that, who can mutually support one-another, bring perspective to the various ministry situations you find yourself in, and pray with you and for you.

To finish I would like to remind you of 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 where Paul speaks of how God makes the church grow. “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

May we be reminded, whether we’re starting fresh or an old hat, that it is God making things grow as we serve Him and His church.

Top Resources For Starting Fresh:

The Ageing Youth Pastor

For the last four years I’ve been behind the front lines supporting and encouraging Youth Pastors as they work on the ground in youth ministry. Time out has been good but for a while now I’ve missed it. Hence, I’m back and loving this new season here at Rowville Baptist.

Jan_Lievens_-_Study_of_an_Old_Man_-_WGA13006It goes without saying that in the last four years I’ve aged. Everyone has. The guys I tracked with in my previous church were finishing up in Year 12, now they’re about to finish uni. I haven’t been a Youth Pastor in my 30s until now. I didn’t have a daughter four years ago.

This isn’t a bad thing. Not at all.

In fact, I think it is to my advantage coming back from a little break.

As I’ve reflected on this in the last few weeks I’ve noticed three particular things about myself that I believe will help me be a better Youth Pastor this time around.

1. Passion

I’ve realised my passion for youth and young adult ministry in a church setting has stayed strong. It’s where my sweet spot is. It’s what I enjoy doing and where I’m confident in being fruitful for the kingdom.

In fact, it’s off the back of a conference last year where I began to think seriously about getting back into the day-to-day of youth ministry and the low embers were fanned back into flame.

2. Perspective

In four years I’ve been given a lot of perspective.

Through the all-consuming nature of church ministry it is hard to see the forest for the trees. I’ve realised what a privilege it is to be walking with people as they explore faith and seek to follow Jesus. Being part of that can feel overwhelming and monotonous if you don’t have some perspective. I’ve been able to look at what’s important and what’s a waste of time to worry about. It’s been refreshing, particularly for someone who was born into a Baptist church 33 years ago.

There are of course stresses that come in the short-term but it is the longer-term view that is so important to have. The slow growth of the gospel working its way into people’s lives and helping them to become more like Jesus. Youth ministry isn’t a fast game, as much as I’d love it to be, it’s for those who see God building His church in His time.

3. Productivity

Finally, I’ve become more productive.

I’ve learnt how I work best, when I work best, and what tools I need to work more efficiently and effectively.

Tim Challies recently wrote a book called Do More Better, in which he explains a system to help people work more productively. I was pleased that the three tools he uses were the ones I’d been using for a while (FYI – Google Calendar, Evernote and Todoist). It takes time to learn how to work and particularly in a role that is so flexible.

If you’re a Youth Pastor I’d encourage you to work on your system. What are the things in your life that help you work at your best? Are you a morning or evening person? Are you planning well, in life and ministry? Are you getting enough exercise or recreation in order to function at your best?

These are three observations about myself that I’ve noticed since being back in church-based ministry.

What about you, what observations can you make about yourself as you age as a Youth Pastor?