By Jake Kircher
It’s not uncommon for youth workers to feel some sort of disconnect from their Senior Pastors (See Doug Franklin’s book The Disconnect). Usually there is quite a generational gap as many senior leaders could be their youth workers parent or grandparent. There might be philosophical differences, different education backgrounds, and ministry experiences that at times don’t see eye to eye. And sometimes there’s a tension between the wisdom of what’s worked for years and what’s fresh and new.
I remember when I was younger and just starting out in ministry where I would run into these issues and find myself thinking, “If I were the senior pastor, I could do so much better.” I would vent to my wife or a mentor about how I would do X differently, or not do Y at all, or how we needed to start Z. Frankly, these statements reeked of arrogance, pride, and mostly naïveté.
See, it’s easy to look at our Senior Pastors from a distance and think that their jobs aren’t that hard and that we can do better. But what we need to remember is that compared to the issues and challenges that we face in ministry, in many scenarios the challenges they face are even greater.
In a recent podcast on politics Rob Bell talked about this hierarchy of leadership. He explained that the higher up you get in an organization (cashier to shift manager to store manager to owner) the problems and challenges get more and more complex. If the lower level staff person can solve the issue, in many cases the higher ups don’t even hear about it. But when they can’t, they pass it up to their boss. And if they can’t solve the problem, they go to their boss until it’s at the top.
This same thing often happens in a church.
I was reminded of this fact over the summer as I had two weeks where I was the only pastor in the office due to vacation schedules. The first week I was flying solo we had a family lose a child. I got the terrifying privilege of counseling them and helping plan their funeral (which I had somehow avoided doing in my previous 15-years in youth ministry!). Thankfully my Senior Pastor was back in time to do the homily.
The second week I was alone we had another death. And so I fully officiated my first funeral. This time for a man who didn’t come to our church and I didn’t know at all. The family described him as someone who “didn’t really care for church and religion at all,” but then asked me to say that he was a “silent servant for Christ.”
This was just two weeks this summer and only two of the many complex challenges I faced in that span; yet it was a huge reminder of the kind of things my senior pastor deals with on a regular basis.
Yes, we as youth workers deal with complaints, but I’d be willing to bet that our senior leaders probably deal with more of them. Yes, we have teens who are dealing with major issues, but our senior pastors are dealing with adults with major issues, and just because of the stakes at hand (jobs, mortgages, declining physical health and other adult responsibilities), they are often more complex and difficult. And yes, we may have different opinions about what our churches should be doing, but you can rest assured that our opinion is only one of the many, and conflicting for that matter, opinions that our senior leaders are hearing.
So the next time you want to complain and say, “If I were the Senior Pastor…”, stop and really think about that for a moment. Seeing things from their perspective, being proactive and asking them about the biggest challenges they face, will help you gain a different respect for them and what they do. It will challenge you to not complain, but instead finish that statement by asking, “…what kind of support and encouragement would I need to do my job?” And as you respond to that question, take your answers and go and do those things for the senior leaders that you serve with.