5 Simple Ways to Gain Respect from Your Church Leaders

youth pastor sr pastor tension

Having been a youth minister for well over a decade now, I think I have heard all of the ridiculous statements and stereotypes about youth ministers. We are lazy, disorganized, and never take anything seriously. We only work on Sundays. All we do is play games and order pizza. And my personal favorite: when we “grow up,” we might “get our own church.”

While I’m not certain where these stereotypes originated, the crop of youth ministers I interact with regularly just don’t fit that mold. Almost every youth minister I connect with regularly is working hard, giving and sacrificing time, energy, and resources, and thoroughly thinking through ways to improve the ministry God has entrusted them with.

Despite this trend, we constantly see youth ministers in the YouthMin Facebook group that are struggling to gain the respect of church leaders. So we created a list of some simple, fool-proof ways to gain respect from your church leaders. These won’t solve every problem, but they will till the soil so respect and admiration can grow.

1.  Work hard
One of the easiest ways to communicate your passion for youth ministry is to be a workhorse. Show up early, be prepared, go the extra mile, be available, and churn out great content. If people can’t find you during office hours, you are chronically unprepared, and regularly on the golf course, someone WILL question your work ethic. One of the most respected players in any locker room is the guy who shows up first and leaves last. Be that guy!

2.  Communicate…a lot
Leaders generally don’t like to be surprised, especially by an angry parent or concerned member. The best way to endear yourself to your leaders is to keep them informed. When I respond to a parent, I often carbon copy my ministry elder or senior minister. When I have a confrontation at church or an issue arises, I email my elders. When I taught on sex, love, and romance last week, I told the parents ahead of time and made sure to have a couple elders in the room as I spoke. Communication breeds trust.

3.  Be a great teammate
The hallmarks of a great teammate are loyalty, communication, respect, honesty, trust, and commitment. By being a great teammate to your fellow staff members and elders, you will receive respect in return. NEVER put down an elder or staff member to a person in your church. NEVER lie or stretch the truth to your teammates. Hold the nitty gritty details of meetings in the strictest confidence. Be loyal to a fault.

4.  Be consistent
Consistency breeds trust. When you are consistent in your dealings with people, how you plan and execute events, and the ways you communicate, trust will naturally follow. On our staff at Hazelwood, we have a Senior Minister who has led for 35 years. Other staff members have been in their positions for 14 years, 13 years, and 7 years. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to work in an environment where there is so much consistency. We know how our teammates operate, how we respond to criticism, and we know that loyalty is the norm. Consistency pays huge dividends, so make it a priority.

5.  Stick around for a long time
There are so many benefits of longevity that I can’t enumerate all of them here, but trust, respect, and added responsibility are certainly among them. When I came to Hazelwood as a 22-year old youth minister fresh out of college, parents and leaders questioned me a lot…and I don’t blame them. I was young, inexperienced, and learning on the fly. Having been here for 13+ years now, I am often given the benefit of the doubt instead of a barrage of questions. Our staff, elders, parents, and students know I’m here to stay, and that leads to a lot of trust.

As I stated above, this list won’t save you from every difficult situation or tough conversation, but you might be surprised how far they will take you when it comes to gaining the respect of your leaders. What would you add to the list?

3 Areas of focus in Youth Ministry Organization

At the end of the month of July, I will finish my fourth year in youth ministry. I have learned some amazing things along the way, but something that I still struggle with terribly in is Youth Ministry organization. I believe that organization is key to running anything successfully, but it’s just not a quality that a majority of us youth pastors always pass with flying colors.

I believe that organization in Youth Ministry can be narrowed down to three fields:

1. Organization of Program
2. Organization of Calendar
3. Organization of Self

1. Organization of Program

This is something that has probably been the most difficult thing for me to learn. Youth programs are great! They can tremendously benefit students lives for the long term and set a solid foundation for Christ in their lives. However, a program unorganized is a ticking time bomb. Whether it be your Senior Pastor, Parents, Leaders in your congregation or the students themselves, someone will begin to notice flaws in an unorganized program. A youth program needs a general direction that they are heading towards, how they are going to get there and what will come out of the task of achieving that goal. I didn’t understand this in my first Youth Ministry position. I have begun to understand the importance of how this works to the benefit of everything you do.

2. Organization of Calendar

This is something that we all seem to struggle with, its something that we always have to do and more times than not at least one thing on the schedule will fall through. However, planning events and giving notice is key to getting students and parents in the door. About 2-3 months ago, I began planning out my curriculum schedule, my games, my volunteers and my events all a few months in advance. This allows the students and parents to have plenty of time to make their schedule work to fit your events in. The busier the season, the more you need to be prepared.

3. Organization of Self

Ahh, at last. This is the one that I didn’t want to write about, because its the one I can’t seem to get a structure going with. In all aspects of life (especially with how busy ours can be at times.) We have to prepare ourselves to allow enough time for all areas of our life. Family of course should come first, but sometimes it seems like we put them on the back burner to make that extra event happen. Structuring your self to allow time for everything you need to will not only help out with stress and planning but it will help out with ease of parents, students and your Senior Pastor. This happens in office hours all the way to the last minute pick up basketball game with your High School students. Often, I will try to pass things across my wife before I set them in stone but sometimes that is not an option. When scheduling your time in the office, your calendar and your other activities, make sure that you also make time for yourself and your family in the process. That is the quickest way to burnout and lack of desire, when you’re family isn’t on board with what you are doing.

Of course, this is a small list of organizational tips but there are many many more out there in the vast experiences of Youth Directors all over the world. What are some tips of yours?

This post was submitted by a member of our YouthMin Community, Brent Aiken is a Father and a Husband,  as well as the Youth Director for First United Methodist Church Fairfield in Fairfield, Texas. Brent just started blogging at Custom Youth Ministry and he leads a google+ hangout every week for youth pastors from our YouthMin.org Community.

Ministry Under Fire: Responding to Criticism

Let’s start with a simple truth.  It doesn’t matter what type of church you serve in, what denomination, what size, how many staff you serve with, or how healthy your ministry may be.  One thing about ministry is universal: we will all face criticism.  Criticism comes in all sorts of forms.  It may come from a student who just doesn’t want to plug into your ministry and wants the world to know it.  It may come from a parent who is just not on board with your philosophy, your personality, or your leadership style.  It may come from another staff member who thinks you aren’t pulling your weight.  It might even come from one of your youth leaders who thinks they can do your job better than you can.  No matter your situation, you WILL face criticism at some point in your ministry.  When you face that criticism in its various forms, here are a few things to remember:

1.  No one is immune

Believe it or not, George W. Bush holds the record for the highest Presidential approval rating at 92% after the 9/11 attacks.  That means that 8% of the population still didn’t approve of his leadership.  And we all know that  his high approval rating was short-lived.  Leaders are targets.  This is true of youth ministry as well.  As you lead, guide, mentor, and work with people, you are going to have your detractors.  Understanding this truth doesn’t kill the pain of criticism, but it can help take the sting out of it.

2.  Consider the source

A dear woman in my church named Grandma Crowe lived by this adage for years, and it seemed to serve her pretty well.  When you are criticized, consider the person who is criticizing you before you do something you might regret.  Some people aren’t happy unless they are making someone else unhappy.  Some people are overly critical.  Some people lash out when they are hurt.  Sometimes, people just have a bad day.  Consider the source before taking a criticism too personally.

3.  Respond positively

If we are being honest, our initial reaction to criticism is to defend and lash out.  We invest our time, resources, energy, and our lives into ministry, so it’s nearly impossible to separate ministry from our identity.  But remember the wise words of Proverbs 15:1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Responding negatively in the moment will only lead to more negativity, and will certainly not contribute to your “approachability” points.  Choose to respond positively, validate that you hear their concerns, and think it through later.

4.  Mine out the valid points

Even though we probably hate to admit it, most criticism does have at least a small amount of validity.  Even the harshest, most unfounded criticism might be something you can learn from to become a better leader.  Take some time to see things from their perspective.  Be objective, and see if there might be any validity to their criticism.  If there is, learn from it and grow moving forward.

5.  Communicate and clear the air

Once you’ve responded positively to the criticism, considered the source, and mined out the possible valid concerns, it’s time to move forward, make changes, and mend the relationship with the critic.  Set up a time to meet with them, or try to catch them naturally next week.  Let them know you appreciate their perspective, communicate any changes you might be making because of their concern, and clear the air so that you can move forward together.

As a leader, you can expect some criticism from time to time.  Choose to respond in a godly, humble way, and see how people respond.  You may see people lining up to support your ministry like never before.

What are some positive things that have come from a criticism you’ve received?  Comment below with a way God has blessed your ministry through criticism.

Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?

It seems about this time every year, I begin to see a lot of blog posts about how Youth Ministry is killing the church, how Youth Ministry is fundamentally flawed, and how students are leaving the church in record numbers.  Youth Ministry is always the scapegoat in this conversation, the sacrificial lamb to blame for all of the woes plaguing the church.

I will be frank and tell you that this trend of blaming Youth Ministry for the mass exodus of young people from the faith is honking me off.  While I see the trend, and am disheartened whenever I see one of my former students straying from the faith, I am not convinced that Youth Ministry is the root cause for the decline.  I’d like to offer some rebuttals to the idea that Youth Ministry is the root of all evil, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Here are some questions I think need to be asked.

1.  What would the statistics be WITHOUT Youth Ministry?

While studies like Sticky Faith and Barna continue to show the alarming trend of students leaving the church, I wonder if those numbers would be exponentially worse without Youth Ministry in the mix.  If you follow the same logic many do when it comes to Youth Ministry, you could have some interesting conclusions.  For instance, people are dying of obesity-related illnesses in large quantities.  Clearly, doctors are killing America.  We should get rid of doctors and start over.  You see the absurdity of such logic, as it doesn’t really get to the root cause of the issue at hand.  I argue that Youth Ministry is not the root cause of students leaving the church.  It may simply be a symptom of the greater disease.  I contend there are other factors.

2.  What about the culture around us?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this isn’t 1950 anymore.  Wally and the Beav are long gone.  Shows like Dick Van Dyke and My Three Sons have been replaced with the Real Housewives and Modern Family.  But the list of cultural changes isn’t limited to our entertainment.  Absentee fathers, single parenting, gay marriage, and a plethora of other “hot button issues” are waging war on our students.  Many well-respected pastors, researchers, and social commentators have even called this a “post-Christian society.”  Are we so naive to think that these other factors don’t contribute to the droves of students leaving our churches?

We aren’t living in an age where families just “attend church together” every Sunday as part of their normal family tradition.  There isn’t a standard expectation in our society to attend church.  Many of the students in our ministry at Hazelwood come to church without their parents.  A number of them have no positive spiritual influence to speak of outside of youth group.  To assume that Youth Ministry is somehow the reason these students don’t “stick with it” is to miss a lot of other contributing factors altogether.

3.  What about all the success stories?

I’ve seen too many amazing spiritual transformations in Youth Ministry to believe it is beyond repair or without merit.  Each year, we watch about 15-20 students give their lives to Christ and follow Him in Christian baptism.  Many of these students, as I mentioned earlier, have no real spiritual connection outside of our Youth Ministry.  I’ve seen students answer the call of God and follow Him into full-time ministry.  Many students from our church are currently serving in other ministries around the country and even around the world.  Through our ministry, students have had opportunities to serve on mission fields in various states, countries, and places of need.  In Youth Ministry, students meet every week to encourage, pray for, and laugh with one another in Christian community.  How can we throw out the baby with the bath water here?

Five years ago, a young lady went on a trip with us for the first time.  She met Jesus there, and her life was never the same.  I watched her pursue Christ faithfully despite adverse conditions spiritually in her home, and financial difficulty at every turn.  Our Youth Ministry often helped pay for her registrations so that she could continue to go with us and grow in Christ.  This past year, she came into my office with a smile on her face.  She had a job her senior year, and had saved her money so she could pay for her own way on our Adventure Trip.  She walked into my office, and gave me THREE stacks of cash.  The first was for her trip.  The second was for her sibling.  And the third was to pay for another student who couldn’t afford to go.  Youth Ministry isn’t completely broken.

4.  Isn’t there another solution?

One of my biggest complaints about most of the “Youth Ministry Stinks” articles is that they rarely offer solutions.  While I don’t think Youth Ministry is to blame for our loss of students entirely, I do think we need to make strides forward, and take Youth Ministry to the next level.  This is where I appreciate solutions-based research like Sticky Faith.  It gives tangible, proven ideas that I can implement in my ministry in the hopes of hanging on to more students in the future.

By connecting our students to the larger body, giving students opportunities to wrestle with questions of faith, and more effectively partnering with parents in ministry, we can make Youth Ministry even more productive in the future, and hopefully watch more students remain faithful after high school.

Is Youth Ministry responsible for the exodus of students from the church?  I’m not so sure.  Can it be better and more effective?  Absolutely.  And that, my friends, is something I think we can ALL agree on.  So let’s get out there and change the world…one student at a time.

An Open Letter to Church Leaders

You might assume by the title of this post that I’m concurrently working on my resume and a blog post, but I’m excited about sharing this post with you and with my own church leaders as we seek to make Christ famous.  I am also eager to hear back from you on what you would share with your church leaders, and I hope this post will be a great conversation starter.

I know that every denomination and every church has a different structure and different definitions of “leadership.”  In my church, we are locally governed by a group of elders, as qualified by 1 Timothy 3.  These are men that I respect, love, and am honored to serve with.  With that context in place, here we go.

Dear Church Leaders,

Let me start by saying that I am honored to serve in the Kingdom with you.  You have been called by God, appointed, and affirmed by our congregation to lead and govern us as a Body.  You bear a heavy burden, and I am thankful for your leadership, your devotion to our Lord and His church, and I write this letter with a submissive heart.  As a co-laborer in Christ, I’d like to share some things from my heart that may encourage and challenge you.  I hope this can open the door to more collaboration in the future.

1.  Your interest in the Youth Ministry means more than you know.  As I speak with fellow Youth Ministers, one of the most common mantras I hear is “I wish my leadership was more aware of what we are doing.”  I know you are busy, and there is no way you can be involved with every ministry in our church.  But you have no idea how encouraging it is to see our leaders stick their head into youth group on a Wednesday or Sunday night, to volunteer to run an inflatable at a 5th Quarter, or even just to ask us in the hallway how the ministry is going.  Those little connections make a BIG difference!

2.  Embrace our differences.  One of the greatest things about the Body of Christ is that it is full of very different people serving One God in very different ways.  There are a lot of things about the students I minister to that would probably blow your mind, and the methods I employ may not make sense to you, but I hope I have proven that you can trust me.  Students live online through smartphones and tablets.  They spend HOURS on Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.  I know we may be very different, but I’m certain we both have a place for ministry in this congregation.  So, forgive me when it sounds like I’m speaking Greek, or when I’m asking for some gadget in my budget that weirds you out.  Hear me out, and I guarantee I’ll have a reason for it.  Then, we can go from there.

3.  Give me feedback…any feedback…please.  I believe with all of my heart that God has called me to this ministry, and specifically to ministry in this church.  I think about youth ministry when I get up, when I go to bed, and almost every minute in between.  I’d love to hear from you about your perceptions concerning our youth ministry.  I have blind spots, and I need your feedback so that I can improve.  Be honest, be kind, but I want to be the absolute best Youth Minister possible.  You can help me with that.

4.  Don’t be afraid to try something crazy.  One truth about leadership that I learned early on was that you will never make everyone happy.  You have been given a huge responsibility to shepherd and lead the flock, and sometimes, that means shaking people up.  I challenge you to take a leap every now and then, think outside the box, and make people uncomfortable.  Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made in ministry seemed a little crazy at the start.  I know it may mean criticism from time to time, but don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

5.  Pray for our students.  Our students are in a crazy world.  Many of them have difficult home lives, some struggle with abuse and neglect.  Others are being pressured by coaches, parents, teachers, and school administrators to perform at near-perfect levels in every area of life.  It seems that the students’ calendars are more full than mine with academics, athletics, church, extracurriculars, and more.  Lift them up in prayer often.  It would be greatly appreciated.

I am praying for you, for our church, and for your leadership.  I believe we can do some amazing things together for the Kingdom, and I am eager and ready to follow your lead.  Let’s do this!