16 Ways to Build a Good Relationship With Your Senior Pastor

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When starting out in youth ministry it is important to keep in mind that you are working within a “multiple staff scenario.” There are many people that can make up a multiple staff from Administrative Assistant and Custodians to Worship Directors, Small Group Coordinators and more, but from personal experience I can assure you the most critical relationship for you to build and develop in a “multiple staff scenario” is with your Senior or Lead Pastor.

It is important for the two of you to get along and work well together for the well-being of the church family you serve. A friend and fellow youth worker told me this when I was starting out in youth ministry: “by default you are viewed as being on a pedestal.” At first I didn’t believe this but the longer I was in youth ministry the more I realized this to be true. People, especially the youth, are looking at you to see if you are walking the talk and living a life full of integrity. One relationship they are looking at is your relationship with the Senior Pastor. They need to experience and witness a team ministry approach where you and your senior pastor are working together for the common good of the congregation. It’s crucial to your personal well-being and success at the church.

By no means does this imply that you need to be a door mat to your Senior Pastor and do whatever he or she says. But what it does mean is that you have each other’s back, that you talk through disagreements and work towards a solution. It means that you never talk behind his or her back and that you keep your and their integrity in tact. It shows respect to your Senior Pastor to share concerns for his ministry and personal life to the point where you can tell him or her that it’s time for him or her to take a break and that you are willing to take up the slack. This is anything but being a doormat; in fact, it’s being a team player!

Here are 16 things you can do to help build your relationship with your lead pastor:

1. Never talk behind his/her back:

a. This is a matter of integrity! Do not publicly disagree with your senior pastor or talk negatively about him or her to members of your congregation. There are avenues for you to share your deep concerns but that should remain behind closed doors and surrounded with prayer. At all possible times show the congregation and council that you are moving forward in the same direction.

2. Do something together outside of the church walls:

a. Your senior pastor is human. They like to let their hair down and veg, just like you do. Get to know them outside the office by doing something that is not ministry related like going out for dinner to talk about life, family, sports etc. Go to a hockey game together, or a hike, or a movie, etc.

3. Go for monthly lunch meetings.

a. This is a great opportunity for you to talk about the day-to-day life of being in ministry together. Neat things happen when you break bread together and talk about what matters to the both of you, your common ground – ministry! And remember, this is you taking them out! I am sure you can spare $20 from your tiny youth ministry budget. It will be $20 well invested.

4. Discuss your youth ministry plans together:

a. On a regular basis share your plans and vision for youth ministry with your Senior Pastor. Keep him or her up-to-date on what you are thinking and the direction you want to go. Don’t surprise them with any proposal that you are taking to your council or a youth event that might be a little “on the edge.” Keep them informed and value their input. Remember, they are in the know about this congregation and can give a great perspective to your plans.

5. Offer to help him/her out when they seem to be overloaded with work:

a. As youth pastors we think we are the hardest working people in the church but take a good look at your senior pastor’s schedule. They are often swamped with ministry from preparing sermons to visits, funerals to weddings, counseling to connecting with the seniors and the list goes on. On top of this they have a personal life as well. Even though your schedule is perhaps equally as busy it will send a huge message if you offer to help out when you can.

6. Laugh together!

a. Yes, they can laugh! If you find a funny joke, send it on to their inbox. Share a funny event that happened at youth or a blooper that you did. It’s as important for you share in the funny things of life as it is to share the serious aspect of ministry. Take time to laugh together – as a youth worker I am sure you have a quiver full of stories that will make him or her laugh. Give a try!

7. Be public, yet genuine, about your team ministry:

a. You are a public figure so there is always a need for you to do public things but please keep it genuine. If it’s not, the congregation will see right through you. Do simple things like shaking their hand when they arrive at church on a Sunday morning, take time to chat and laugh together in public, like at a congregational meeting. It is important to let the people you serve see you get along, not just know it.

8. Have your senior pastor attend or teach a youth group night:

a. Pick a topic and have them teach it in a pair of jeans and sneakers. This is a great opportunity for you to work together preparing a youth lesson. This is an automatic opportunity for you to work together, to discuss together and prepare together. The youth will notice your synergy when you are at youth together. This speaks volumes!

9. Have your senior pastor join you and your youth on a fun night out:

a. It’s not just important for you to realize that your Senior Pastor is human and likes to kick back and have fun but it’s also important for your youth to see that side of him/her as well. Again, this is a great opportunity for you and your senior pastor to show publicly that you have a great working relationship and can have fun together. The youth need to see that your senior pastor is more than the person standing behind the pulpit. You are the vessel to make that happen. This will do wonders for both of your ministries in the church, as well as the spiritual life of your congregation.

10. Send him/her an email expressing your appreciation:

a. The emails your senior pastor receives are not always ones of praise and encouragement. Emails have become an easy way for people sitting in the pews to express their feelings about Sunday’s sermon – not always the most flattering. What a delight it would be for him or her to receive an email from a fellow ministry partner expressing genuine appreciation for the gifts they display daily in the life of the church.

11. Publicly thank your senior pastor at a congregational meeting:

a. I am sure the council gives you opportunity at congregational meetings to share what’s happening in youth ministry. Part of your talk I’m sure is expressing your thanks to your many volunteers (if you don’t, you should) so in addition to that, take a minute to thank your senior pastor for his or her support to you. If for some reason you do not currently feel support from him/her, try to find something genuine to thank them for.

12. Read a book together:

a. Yep, take the time to read a book together and discuss it. There are so many good books that you could read together such as ‘Spiritual Leadership’ by J. Oswald Sanders, ‘The Tangible Kingdom’ by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, or ‘Goodbye Generation’ by David Sawler. This list can go on but grab a book that interests you, add a good cup of java and enjoy. It will give you both common ground and it is a great relationship-building experience.

13. Pray together about ministry:

a. Take out your iPhone or Blackberry and be intentional about setting time together on your calendar to pray together about ministry. Keep a journal together listing your requests, praise and thoughts. There is tremendous power in prayer. It is hard to be disconnected in ministry when you are connected in prayer!

14. Share the pulpit on a Sunday morning:

a. My former pastor and I did this once and a while – we called it ‘tag teaming’ for lack of a better term. I would do certain sections of the service and he would take others. I am referring here to more than you simply doing youth announcements and a responsive reading. This is referring to parts of the service such as the Call to Worship, Assurance of Pardon, the Congregational Prayer and so on.

15. Invite your senior pastor on your next missions trip:

a. Again this is something I did in my previous church and it had a huge impact on our working relationship. My senior pastor and I worked on a high school ministry trip together in Modesto, CA building a bus shelter with 25 youth, we smuggled Bibles into China together with 13 young adults, and we traveled to Israel together with 12 young adults on an intergenerational ministry trip. Take the first step and invite them to join you on your ministry trip to experience the joy and excitement that comes as a result of a well-led ministry trip. It’s huge but worth it! (For local or international ministry opportunities, click here)

16. Take a personality test:

a. Take some time, research a good personality test such as Myers-Briggs and learn about each others personalities. Once you have a better understanding of their personality it will have a huge impact on how you work and minister together on a day-to-day basis. It’s worth the investment which will result in long term results.

I am sure you can come up with many more examples of how you have intentionally connected with your Senior Pastor. I would love to hear them so feel free to pass your ideas or practices to [email protected]. These are just 16 ideas that I believe will have a huge impact on your church – try some, try one or try all. It’s up to you but at least begin today trying to build a strong, healthy relationship with your Senior Pastor.

God has called you into ministry, he has placed you in a ‘multiple staff scenario’ so it’s time for you to work through in your own mind how you are going to make this work, keeping the interest of the people you serve in mind. A multiple staff can be very rewarding but it does take honest communication from both you and the Senior Pastor. It can work wonderfully if you are willing to make it work.

As you move forward in ministry, may God bless you, may He make His face shine upon you and give you His peace as you live out the calling placed on your life to minister to the youth of our generation.

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